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Heart attack diagnosis and assessment

Emergency treatment aims to relieve pain and restore blood flow

Emergency treatment aims to relieve pain and restore blood flow

A heart attack is an emergency situation and requires immediate medical help. Assessment of your situation will begin as soon as medical help arrives and will include:

  • Assessing how you look
  • Finding out, if possible, about any heart conditions you already have
  • Asking anyone who is with you what happened
  • Performing initial tests which will help to find out what is happening to you
  • Providing treatment to minimise the amount of heart damage, relieve pain and prevent shock worsening

Initial tests

As soon as ambulance or medical staff arrive they will begin tests to find out what is happening to you. These will include:

  • ECG (electrocardiogram): to show the amount of damage to your heart muscle and where the damage is. Treatment to restore blood flow and minimise the amount of heart muscle damage (this is called ‘reperfusion’) can be achieved in different ways depending on your ECG readings so it is important that you have an ECG as soon as possible to show exactly what is happening.
  • Assessment of blood pressure and oxygen levels.
  • Blood tests: taken for troponin levels - a protein which is released into your blood stream when your heart muscle is damaged. It is a quick and accurate measure to see whether you have had a heart attack.

Establishing a diagnosis

Your ECG will show which of the two main types of heart attack you have had

Your ECG will show which of the two main types of heart attack you have had

A heart attack is identified by abnormal changes on your ECG reading, i.e. changes to the pattern of a normal heart beat.

  • This is called ST elevation. The presence and degree of ST elevation indicates the severity of blockage in the blood flow to your heart.

Your ECG will show which of the two main types of MI (heart attack) you have had. There are two possible scenarios:

  • Your ECG shows a complete blockage. This is known as ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI).
  • Your ECG shows a partial blockage but some blood is still able to flow (this may lead to a full blockage). This is known as Non ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (NSTEMI).

Which type of MI you have had will decide what emergency treatment is right for you.

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