A person's hands held close to chest

Know the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke

  • Education
  • Society

A recent RCSI MyHealth episode brings together leading experts to explore heart and cardiovascular diseases with the aim of empowering people to make informed decisions about their own health.

Cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke are one of the leading causes of death in Ireland.

Professor Alice Stanton, Professor of Cardiovascular Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, leads the discussion with Professor Robert Byrne, Director of Cardiology at the Mater Private Hospital, Dublin and Chair of Cardiovascular Research, RCSI; Professor Anne Hickey, Professor of Psychology and Deputy Dean for Positive Education, RCSI and Principal Investigator, Post-stroke Cognition Research Group; and Professor David Williams, Professor of Stroke Medicine, Beaumont Hospital and RCSI.

Minimising the impact

The panel outlines the main symptoms of heart attack as discomfort or tightness in the chest, often occurring after exercise as well as breathlessness, palpitations and blackouts. A major risk factor is identified as family history.

Treatments for heart attack are available 24 hours, 365 days a year in all the major population centres in Ireland. Three major developments were identified as pivotal in the treatment of heart disease in Ireland. The first is the use of electrocardiogram (ECG) which can determine if the artery is potentially blocked and if a stent is required. Secondly, the establishment of coronary care units throughout the country ensure that immediate action can be taken and finally advances in medicine meaning that damage caused by the heart attack or stroke can be minimised.

Reaction time and lifestyle

In terms of stroke, symptoms include a sudden loss of power of speech and/or loss of sensation in the face, arm or leg. Often people affected by stroke don’t suffer pain, which can lead to a delay in seeking medical attention.

People were directed to the FAST (face, arms, speech and time) campaign, which was run by the Irish Heart Foundation to raise awareness of the signs of stroke. Professor Williams used the term ‘Time is Brain’. For every minute that a stroke isn’t treated, over 2 million brain cells die – this is why it is vital to react 'FAST'.

In the case of both heart attack and stroke, lifestyle measures and maintaining a healthy lifestyle play an important role in prevention. People who are concerned should contact a healthcare professional who can help them to assess their risk and change their lifestyle in three simple stages: acknowledgement, planning and action. Eventually these changes will become habitual.

Prevention is better than cure.

Watch the RCSI MyHealth: Supporting your cardiovascular and heart health discussion:

Watch the video

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