6 When things go wrong

6.1 Introduction

Despite efforts to avoid them, heart disease, heart failure and heart attacks do occur – sometimes with warning symptoms and sometimes without. Cardiologists (doctors specialising in the heart) use a variety of tests to determine the causes of different conditions leading to heart disease. They are then able to guide subsequent treatment. Special tests that are carried out in cardiology departments may include blood pressure measurements, blood tests, electrocardiography, angiography, echocardiography and nuclear imaging.

Less than a century ago, little could be done to treat high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases. Today, medical and surgical interventions are available to reduce damage and disability as well as delay death. Once under the care of the cardiologist in the hospital setting or discharged to the care of a family medical practitioner, the cardiac patient will receive treatment according to established protocols.

Outside the medical setting, first aid for acute heart conditions can be life-saving and it is useful for everyone to be aware of the current guidelines.