REDFEB highlights how to recognise and handle a heart attack

Thursday, 21 January, 2021

REDFEB highlights how to recognise and handle a heart attack

Heart Research Australia is encouraging Australians to wear red and donate during February, to raise awareness for heart disease and funds for life-saving research, to help keep families together for longer.

As part of the REDFEB campaign, the organisation is also promoting a free Heart Smart Pocket Guide containing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack as well as an action plan that could save lives.

“Heart disease is Australia’s number one killer, but it is surprising how little people know about the signs of a heart attack and what is critical to do in the moment,” Heart Research Australia CEO Nicci Dent said.

“Each day, an average of 20 Australians die from a heart attack. An Australian suffers a heart attack every 10 minutes.

“That is why this REDFEB, in addition to encouraging people to wear red and donate to life-saving research, we are promoting an important free Heart Smart pocket guide. The Heart Smart Pocket Guide is designed to fit in your wallet or pocket, and is a handy guide to heart attack symptoms and the recommended response in an emergency. By knowing and recognising the symptoms of a heart attack, you could help save someone’s life. Maybe even your own,” Dent added.

“Everyone should know how to recognise a heart attack for two very good reasons. Firstly, the odds are high that either you or someone you love will suffer from a heart attack during your lifetime. Secondly, whether you survive that heart attack can depend on what you and your doctors do about it during the first few hours.”

Two of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes people make when it comes to heart attacks are:

1) assuming the signs are the same for everyone; and

2) dismissing symptoms, thinking they’ll just go away. This results in people not acting quickly enough.

“The longer people delay getting medical attention, the more potential damage is done to the heart muscle. That’s why we strongly recommend calling 000 — as information can be given over the phone, and ambulance workers can start working on you straight away,” Dent explained.

The signs are not the same for everyone

“Many people assume that all heart attacks happen like in the movies — sudden and intense pain in the chest that causes someone to collapse,” cardiologist Dr Rebecca Kozor said.

“If that were the case, it would be easy to know when to go to the hospital. In reality, the signs can be less obvious and vary between individuals.”

While chest pain is the classic symptom of a heart attack, other symptoms can occur in addition to, or instead of, chest discomfort. These may include:

  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders or arms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Indigestion or heartburn-like symptoms
  • Suddenly feeling dizzy, weak, faint or light-headed.

“Women need to know about heart disease — sadly, it kills more Australian women than breast cancer,” Dr Kozor said.

“Chest pressure is still the leading complaint for women; however, women experience different heart attack symptoms compared to men — they are more likely to also report nausea, sweating, vomiting, pain in the neck, jaw, throat or back.”

Time is critical

The number one factor that determines if a heart attack will be fatal? Time.

“I cannot repeat this enough — every minute counts,” Dr Kozor iterated.

“If you’re having a heart attack, prompt medical attention may help protect your heart muscle from permanent damage and perhaps save your life.

“If you have warning signs of a heart attack call triple zero immediately and ask for an ambulance.

“The longer the time without treatment, the more damage there can be to the heart muscle and this reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood. This can result in poor blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys, and can lead to heart failure,” Dr Kozor continued.

“While you may have doubts about whether or not to call an ambulance, please do not hesitate. Sadly, many Australian deaths due to heart attack occur before the person gets to hospital or first medical contact.”

Other advice

  • It is advised NOT to drive the patient to the hospital yourself, as you may need to perform CPR.
  • Give the person an aspirin if you have any, unless they have been advised not to take this particular medication.
  • Make sure they rest quietly while you wait for an ambulance.
  • If an ambulance is not readily available (for example, in some rural areas), quickly notify the nearest hospital, health clinic or the person’s usual doctor for advice.

Heart Smart Pocket Guide

For a pocket guide containing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack as well as an action plan that you can carry with you at all times, visit

“The pocket guide is free to Australian residents, but any financial support towards our life-saving research will be gratefully received,” Dent said.

“The simple fact is that research saves lives, which is why Heart Research Australia funds world-class and emerging researchers to conduct ground-breaking research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.”

This year, Zoll defibrillators will generously donate two defibrillators to the organisation and individual that raises the most funds for Heart Research Australia.

For more information on REDFEB and to donate, visit

Image courtesy of Heart Research Australia.

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