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Information that could save a life

Heart painted on hands

You might be surprised to learn that heart attacks remain the leading cause of death in Australia. But it doesn’t need to be that way… reducing the risk of having a heart attack is surprisingly simple. Exercise regularly, eat and drink in moderation and take time out to relax and enjoy life.

What is heart disease?

Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are called cardiovascular diseases. The main cardiovascular diseases are heart attack, angina and stroke.


Angina is the chest pain or discomfort occurring when part of the heart cannot get enough oxygen to meet its demands, especially during exertion, high emotion or after a heavy meal. The heart muscle is not permanently damaged, but angina is a warning that the muscle is at risk and the possibility of heart attack is increased.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when a blood clot suddenly blocks a narrowed coronary artery. Blood supplied to the heart is cut off and the affected part of the muscle can die if blood flow is not quickly restored. With a heart attack, the pain does not go away with rest and part of the heart muscle is permanently damaged. If the damage is severe, the heart may stop pumping, causing death. Symptoms include persistent mild to severe pain, pressure or tightness in the chest, arms, shoulders, throat or lower jaw. Sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, paleness or collapse may accompany the pain.


A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked or bursts. As a result, brain cells may be damaged, causing paralysis of parts of the body or speech problems. Sometimes a stroke can cause death. A stroke is caused in a similar way to a heart attack and is sometimes call a "brain attack".

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognise the symptoms of a stroke. The National Stroke Foundation advises that a bystander can recognise a stroke by asking three simple questions which are easily remembered by using the acronym FAST:

  1. Facial weakness: Ask the individual to SMILE.

  2. Arm weakness: Ask the person to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

  3. Speech difficulty: Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE coherently (eg. It is sunny out today).

  4. Time to act FAST: If they have trouble with any of these tasks, call 000 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Remember, in the case of emergency dial 000.

In all cases, even if the pain is minor, the person should seek urgent medical assistance. The symptoms of any type of heart disease can come on quickly and escalate rapidly. Don’t waste time deciding what to do - ACT! You can never be too embarrassed if it means saving a life. Remember: dial 000 or arrange to be taken to the closest hospital immediately.

For further information about heart disease and how to maintain a healthy heart, visit the National Heart Foundation’s website at


National Heart Foundation

National Stroke Foundation


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