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First Aid for Heart Problems

The heart is a muscular pump. Each heartbeat is the result of an electrical stimulation that originates from within the heart. The most common cause of heart disease is a reduction in the amount of oxygen-carrying blood reaching the heart. This is mainly due to a narrowing of an artery or arteries.


Angina is a cramp-like pain caused by a reduction in oxygen reaching the heart. It is usually brought on by exercise or excitement. For a relatively large number of people, angina is an ongoing problem that has a familiar pattern. Casualties usually respond well to rest and medication.

You may notice:
  • Crushing chest pain.
  • Pain may spread to the jaw, arms and hands.
  • A feeling of weakness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • A tightening sensation in the jaw, arms and hands.
  • A sensation of heaviness in the arms.
  • Sit the casualty down on the spot.
  • Assist the casualty to take his medication.
  • Allow the casualty to rest until he has completely recovered.
When to call an ambulance:
  • This is the casualty's first angina.
  • The pain is more severe and extensive than the casualty normally experiences.
  • The pain does not respond to the casualty's medication.
  • The pain starts when the casualty is resting.

Heart attacks usually occur because a part of the heart is suddenly starved of oxygen. It is usually due to a blood clot blocking an artery.

You may notice:
  • Central chest pain, often described as a tight band around the chest, or intense pain under the breastbone.
  • Abdominal discomfort, often mistaken as indigestion.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Pale, cold and clammy skin.
  • Faintness or dizziness.
  • Rapid, weak pulse that's often irregular.
  • Treat the casualty immediately.
  • Make the casualty comfortable in a semi-sitting position; ensure good support.
  • Dial emergency services.
  • Never leave the casualty unattended and always be ready to start resuscitation.
  • If the casualty has no objections and isn't allergic, give him an aspirin tablet to CHEW.
  • Constantly be aware of the casualty's overall condition, particularly if he seems to 'doze off'. Very often, collapse into cardiac arrest is sudden and unremarkable.

The heart muscle becomes inefficient and the circulation through the lungs becomes 'sluggish' causing fluid to gather in the lungs. Heart failure may occur following a heart attack or it could be a symptom of other heart diseases. The attacks often occur at night.

You will notice:
  • Breathlessness, often severe.
You may notice:
  • Pale, cold and clammy skin.
  • Abdominal discomfort.
  • Central chest pain.
  • A blue tinge to the skin, especially the ears and lips.
  • Rapid deterioration, even collapse.
  • Help the casualty into a semi-sitting position and ensure good support.
  • Dial emergency services.
  • Be prepared to perform resuscitation.

This is a sudden and unexpected stopping of the heart's pumping action. It could be due to a heart attack or because of other conditions, like electrocution or anaphylactic shock. When the heart doesn't pump, oxygen can't circulate through the body and the heart and brain will be rapidly damaged. The first-aider will have to perform resuscitation immediately and until emergency services have arrive.

Dial emergency services as soon as possible.

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