When doctors say heart disease or cardiovascular disease, they’re often talking about the blood supply to vital organs being restricted, fancy words for your organs need a blood supply or some fuel.

Things like heart attacks or angina or strokes are where you don’t get enough blood supply to the heart or to the brain, and this is quite important for us. Every Aboriginal person is at risk of heart disease, so it’s important to look out for the warning signs so we can help ourselves and help each other. Lots of Aboriginal people have died of heart attack because they didn’t even know they were having one.

These are the warning signs to look for. Pain, pressure, squeezing, heavy weight or tightness in the chest, pain or aching in the jaw, neck, back, one or both of the arms, or one or both the shoulders. Feeling that you’re going to vomit, being out of breath, having indigestion or heartburn, being sweaty, cold, and clammy, being really tired, lightheaded or dizzy. Women can show other warning signs like fainting or pressure in the upper part of the back.

The important part is it’s so common that these symptoms you might experience are things that are common to us, so if you’re worried, or if there’s a family history of such, make sure you get it checked. If you experience any of these warning signs, stop and tell someone. If the symptoms last for 10 or more minutes, you or someone with you should call triple zero for emergency help. If the number doesn’t work on your mobile, try calling 112. Tell the operator it looks like a heart attack and ask for an ambulance. Even if you aren’t sure it’s a heart attack, there’s no shame in calling for an ambulance. If it is a heart attack, and you don’t get help fast enough, the damage to your body will get much worse, and can result in death. If you need to drive to hospital, don’t drive yourself but get someone else to drive for you. Acting quickly can save your life or someone else’s life.

A heart attack is a blockage of the blood supply to the heart, and causes serious damage to the heart muscle. This is why, if you have a heart attack, you need to get to the hospital very quickly, before your muscle dies. Similarly, a stroke is blockage of the blood to the brain. Think of it as a brain attack. So you’ve gotta do something fast, do it quickly, and do it now. If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, remember FAST.

FAST stands for face, arms, speech, and time. Remembering FAST can save someone’s life. Face, a funny feeling or drooping on one side of the face. Arms, a weak arm or leg on one or both sides of the body. Speech, slurred or funny speech, and it might be hard to talk. Time, if you see these signs in yourself or in someone else, call for help straight away, by dialling triple zero, or 112 in mobile. Ask for an ambulance.

Aboriginal people are at high risk of cardiovascular disease, because all of the risk factors are common. These include heart disease running in families, diabetes, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol, high blood pressure and cholesterol, too much fat and not enough veggies in your diet, and kidney damage. But there’s plenty you can do to avoid having a stroke or heart attack. If you eat more healthy foods, like fruit and vegetables, get your weight down, get regular exercise, enough to make you a bit breathless for about 45 minutes five or six days a week, stop smoking and drink less grog, you’ll have a better chance of never having a stroke or a heart attack. If you’re at high risk, you’ll also need medicines that help bring down your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Getting a heart check early and getting a regular health check means you can start on the path to preventing bad things happening. If you’ve had a heart attack, you might need a specialist to unblock the artery to help the blood reach the muscle. Another way is by giving a drug which dissolves the clot and helps the blood get there. Sometimes after a heart attack, your heart doesn’t beat in the same way, so you might need a small device put inside your chest to help the heart beat properly.

You’ll also need to take cholesterol, blood pressure medicines, and aspirin every day, probably for the rest of your life. If you’re on these medicines, take them as prescribed by your doctor, and make sure you have enough to last if you go away. With a stroke, you’ll get a scan to see the blockage or bleed, and that will help decide what treatment you should have, by either removing the clot or maybe surgery to control the bleed. So there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself from a heart attack and stroke. The first step is to get checked by your doctor, and if you are at risk, the doctors will have to talk to you about things you’re doing to try and keep your blood pressure and heart strong.

Heart Foundation Helpline

Get free, personalised information and support. Translating and interpreting service also available. https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/get-in-touch/general-contact
Call 13 11 12 or email health@heartfoundation.org.au