Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Some of these deaths can be prevented if appropriate first aid is given. Even more of these deaths could be prevented if individuals adopted a healthy lifestyle that reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular and the Heart for First Aiders
The heart acts as a pump. It continually circulates blood to the lungs and all parts of the body. To do this work, it needs a steady supply of blood rich in oxygen and nutrients. Two coronary arteries supply this blood to the heart muscle. If the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked, a part of the heart will not receive the oxygen it needs. This will lead to a cardiovascular emergency.
Cardiovascular disease refers to disorders of the heart and blood vessels, such as high blood pressure. Over time, they can lead to cardiovascular emergencies such as angina, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and cardiac arrest.
If one of the coronary arteries becomes hardened, the blood supply feeding that part of the heart muscle becomes limited when the heart works harder and needs more blood, it can’t get the oxygenated blood it needs. This causes pain or discomfort in the chest which may spread to the neck, jaw, shoulders and arms. Many people with angina live normally by taking medication that increases blood flow to the heart.
A heart attack happens when the heart muscle tissue dies because its supply of oxygenated blood has been cut off. Usually, a blood clot gets stuck in a coronary artery that has been narrowed. The supply of blood is cut off and the heart tissue beyond the blood clot is starved of oxygen.
A heart attack can feel like angina, except the pain does not go away by resting and taking medication. If the heart attack damages the heart’s electrical system, or if a lot of heart muscle is damaged, the heart may stop beating.
Signs and Symptoms of Angina and Heart Attack
- Aching jaw
- Sore arms
- Cardiac arrest
Providing First Aid for Angina or Heart Attack
A first aider may understand the difference between angina and a heart attack, but a first aider cannot decide whether the casualty is having angina pain or a heart attack – only a medical doctor can determine this. For this reason, the first aid for angina and heart attack is the same.
- Ask the casualty questions such as, can you show me where it hurts? Have you had this pain before? Do you have medication for this pain?
- As soon as you recognize the signs and symptoms of angina/heart attack, call, or have a bystander call, for medical help.
- Place the casualty at rest to reduce the work the heart has to do.
- Make the casualty comfortable. Loosen any tight clothing around the neck and chest.
- If the casualty loses consciousness and stops breathing, start CPR