Heart Attack

1 in 5 men will die from a heart attack.


Our heart muscle needs oxygen to keep working. It gets oxygen in blood that is pumped to the heart through the arteries. A heart attack happens when arteries become blocked, stopping oxygen from reaching parts of the heart. An artery spasm from smoking or drug taking can also interrupt the blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack. Minutes later, parts of the heart start to die. The sooner the blocked artery can be opened and the blood flow restored, the better our chances of survival.

Some people will experience chest pains (angina) in the days or weeks leading up to a heart attack, and some people will have no warning signs at all.

Angina is a pain that comes from your heart and feels like a tightening or squeezing in your chest. It’s a symptom of heart disease where the build up of cholesterol lining your arteries restricts your blood and oxygen flow to the heart. Angina pain can last around 10 minutes and can spread to your jaw, back or shoulders. Angina doesn’t cause permanent damage to the heart, but it’s a major warning sign that your arteries are getting blocked.

As well as chest pain, you might also experience the following at the onset of a heart attack:

  • Cold sweat or nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain spreading to one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Heart attacks are rare in men under 45 (although it’s rising for that age group), and chances of having a heart attack increase as you get older.
  • People who are overweight, smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or have diabetes are more at risk of a heart attack.
  • Heart attack risk can run in your family. So, if someone in your immediate family has had a heart attack, then your chances on having one are higher.


If you have any chest pain, or have a high risk of heart attack, see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will:

  • Talk about the risk factors
  • Listen to your heart
  • Take your blood pressure
  • Send you for blood tests to check your cholesterol levels.

If you are at risk of a heart attack, your doctor will discuss lifestyle changes to reduce your risks. They might also prescribe medication to thin your blood and reduce the risk of blockages.

If you have a heart attack, your heart will be damaged, causing irregular heartbeats or heart failure. Heart failure is when your heart isn’t strong enough to pump blood around your body. By this time, you will in a hospital bed and in the care of a cardiologist who will talk through treatment options with you.

We’ve got to look after our hearts so it doesn’t get to this stage.


inside your arteries


What's It Like To Have A Heart Attack?

Like a lot of us, Ray Thomas, 62 from Rangiora, didn't take action until it was almost too late. Read his own account of what it's like to have a heart attack. Thank you Ray for sharing your story.


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Here are some useful brochures and resources that you can download and view for more information on heart attacks.

share your story

If you would like to share your story about surviving a heart attack we’d love to hear from you. Fill in the form and we’ll get in touch.