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What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when blood stops flowing to part of your heart. Your heart needs a constant supply of oxygen. It gets the oxygen and food it needs from your blood, through its blood vessel network (called the coronary arteries). If one of your coronary arteries suddenly becomes blocked by a blood clot, this will cause a heart attack. A blockage in one of these arteries means that there is a part of your heart that can’t get oxygen. If the blood flow isn’t restored quickly, this part of the heart muscle starts to die.

Learn more about heart attacks.



What causes a heart attack?

There are a number of factors which are known to increase the risk of having heart attack – they are called risk factors. The more risk factors you have, the greater the chance of having a heart attack, or having another heart attack. There are some rick factors that you have no control over, as much as you might like to. These include your age, ethnicity, gender and having a family history of heart attack or stroke. However other risk factors are within your power to change, such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood sugar (diabetes), high blood pressure, weight, physical inactivity, what you eat and drink and your mental health and wellbeing. If you make changes to your risk factors, you can slow or stop the damage to your arteries and reduce your risk of another heart attack.

Learn more about what causes a heart attack.



What is angina?

Angina can happen when arteries get narrower. Angina is the symptoms, usually chest pain, of reduced blood flow to the heart. Angina is caused by a narrowed (but not blocked) coronary artery, which feeds blood to the heart. There is not permanent damage, which makes it different from a heart attack. Some people experience episodes of angina prior to a heart attack and may continue to experience it afterwards. For others they may never have experienced it. But it is important to know what angina is, what the symptoms are, how to recognise angina and heart attack signs and what to do about it.

Learn more about angina.


Are my family at risk?

Think about your family history. If an immediate male relative, i.e., your brother, has had a heart attack before the age of 55, or if an immediate female relative, i.e., your mother or sister, has had one before the age of 65, you are at greater risk of developing heart disease. If both parents have had a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 55, your risk of developing heart disease can rise to 50% compared to the general population.

Learn more about your family’s risk.



How can I increase my confidence to exercise?

One of the most common issues for those going through cardiac rehabilitation is developing the confidence to exercise again. Before starting any sort of physical activity or exercise after a heart attack, it is important you discuss your condition and what physical activity you can expect to do with your doctor or health professional. One of the most effective ways of increasing your confidence to exercise is to join a supervised phase two cardiac rehabilitation programme. These can be found across the country and are free of charge if run through your local district health board. Check out the HeartHelp Directory for a phase two programme in your area.

If you are unable to attend a programme, you should take small steps to build your confidence to exercise. You may only do five to 10 minutes of walking around the house, but if you can do this without a problem, look to increase this by a minute the next day and so on. You may like to ask your doctor for a green prescription.

It is very important to take steps to improve your confidence to exercise. Starting regular aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming, or cycling is a crucial part of long-term treatment for most people with heart disease. Having a support person such as a family member or friend to exercise with you can be great for confidence as well as a great motivator. You may find it useful to look at the HeartHelp Directory for local exercise groups, or check out Sport New Zealand.

Learn more about the benefits of physical activity following a heart attack.