Heart attack vs cardiac arrest – and what to do next

AFTER swift action saved a man’s life when he suffered a heart attack, we ask what are the main symptoms to look out for?

Mary Long-Dhonau, a flood consultant who lived for many years in Diglis, Worcester, had been listening carefully to Jeremy Vine and Dr Sarah Jarvis on the radio as they discussed the symptoms of a heart attack.


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QUICK: Mary Long-Dhonau at the flood mobile. Her actions helped save a man’s life after he suffered a heart attack.

It was lucky for her friend Dave that she was paying close attention.

The information she had absorbed within the hour was to prove the key to his survival when he was taken ill at a conference in Telford.

Little did Mrs Long-Dhonau of Ledbury imagine that all that she had just learned would help her, and others, save his life.

An ambulance was called and he is now said to be recovering well after stents were fitted on Monday.

Worcester News: DIFFERENCE: The British Heart Foundation has emphasized the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrestDIFFERENCE: The British Heart Foundation has emphasized the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest


  • chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest
  • pain in other parts of the body. It can feel as if the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
  • an overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
  • coughing or wheezing

The chest pain is often severe, but some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion.

While the most common symptom in both men and women is chest pain, women are more likely to have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling or being sick and back or jaw pain.

Worcester News: EDUCATORS: Jeremy Vine and Dr Sarah Jarvis EDUCATORS: Jeremy Vine and Dr Sarah Jarvis


  • If you have had a heart attack, it’s important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart.
  • If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet (300mg) while you wait for the ambulance. Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.


In some cases, a complication called ventricular arrhythmia can cause the heart to stop beating. This is known as sudden cardiac arrest.

Signs and symptoms that suggest a person has gone into cardiac arrest – they appear not to be breathing they’re not moving they don’t respond to any stimulation, such as being touched or spoken to.

If you think somebody has gone into cardiac arrest and you do not have access to an automated external defibrillator (AED), you should perform chest compressions, as this can help restart the heart.

Chest compression

To do chest compressions on an adult: Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the center of the person’s chest. Place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlock your fingers.

Using your body weight (not just your arms), press straight down by 5 to 6cm on your chest. Repeat this until an ambulance arrives.

Aim to do 100 to 120 compressions a minute.

If you have access to an automated external defibrillator (AED) you are advised to use it. It helps to establish a regular heartbeat during a cardiac arrest by monitoring the person’s heartbeat and giving them an electric shock if necessary.

British Heart Foundation advice on CPR

Step 1: Shake and shout

If you come across someone who is unconscious, always check for hazards before you start helping.

Someone having a cardiac arrest will either not be breathing or they won’t be breathing normally. They also won’t be conscious.

Check for a response – gently shake the person’s shoulders and ask loudly ‘are you alright?’

Shout for help – if someone is nearby, ask them to stay as you might need them. If you are alone, shout loudly to attract attention, but don’t leave the person.

Step 2Call 999

If the person is not breathing or not breathing normally:

ask someone to call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance

ask someone to find a public access defibrillator (PAD).

If there’s no one around call 999 before starting compressions.

Step 3: Give chest compressions

Kneel next to the person.

Place the heel of one hand in the center of their chest. Place your other hand on top of the first. Interlock your fingers.

With straight arms, use the heel of your hand to push the breastbone down firmly and smoothly, so that the chest is pressed down between 5–6 cm, and release.

Do this at a rate of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute – that’s around 2 per second. We tell people to think of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees and push to the beat.

Step 4: Keep going

Keep going until professional help arrives and takes over, or the person starts to show signs of regaining consciousness, such as coughing, opening their eyes, speaking, or breathing normally.

If you’re feeling tired, and there’s someone nearby to help, ask them to take over giving CPR. You can show them what to do and take turns until emergency help arrives.

Step 5: Use a defibrillator

As soon as a defibrillator is found turn it on and follow its clear instructions.

The defibrillator will decide whether a shock is needed and if so, it will tell you to press the shock button. An automatic defibrillator will shock the person without prompt. Don’t touch the person while they’re being shocked.

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