Frequently Asked Questions.

1. What is high blood pressure and do I have to take medicine to get my blood pressure back to normal?


Blood pressure is a measure of the level of pressure of blood in your arteries and shows the amount of work your heart has to do to pump blood around the body. You need a certain amount of pressure in your arteries to keep blood moving around. The normal level of blood pressure is usually 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic).

High blood pressure means that your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, but if it is not treated or kept under control, it means you are more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. The only way you can find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked

If you have been told you have high blood pressure, your doctor is likely to recommend a number of important lifestyle changes such as:

Your doctor may also suggest that you take medication to control your blood pressure, particularly if it is very high, or making the lifestyle changes doesn’t lower it enough. The number and type of tablet varies from one person to the next, and depends on how your blood pressure responds to the treatment.

If you have been prescribed tablets for high blood pressure, you will usually have to take them for life. It is very important to take your medication in the way it is prescribed because it does help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

For more about the causes and getting checked, view our Blood Pressure article in Heart & Stroke Conditions A-Z here; or for advice on ways to reduce your blood pressure view our Blood Pressure article in Heart Health information here.


2. When can I go back to work after my heart attack?


How soon you return to work may depend on the type of work you do. Your doctor or heart specialist will help you decide when you are fit enough to return to work. They will also help you to decide whether you can return to full-time work straight away or if it might be better to work part-time to begin with.

Some people get back to work in six weeks or less, while others need longer to recover. If you are a bus driver or have a licence to drive a heavy goods vehicle, you must tell your employers about the heart attack.

In certain cases you may not be able to return to your previous job. If your job is very demanding, it is important not to overdo it for the first few weeks. If your job is very stressful, you might need to change how you work or the type of work you do.

For more view our article on Heart Attack in our Heart & Stroke Conditions A-Z section; or view our Step by Step Through Heart Attack booklet.


3. What is the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?


A Heart Attack:

A heart attack happens when a coronary artery on the surface of your heart that supplies blood to your heart muscle becomes blocked. This stops the blood flowing to that part of the heart muscle and if it is not unblocked quickly, that part becomes damaged and begins to die.

But the heart continues to beat.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include chest pain, unusual fatigue, weakness, nausea, cold sweats or shortness of breath. These symptoms can come on suddenly or may start slowly and persist for hours. Heart attack symptoms in women can be quite vague and are often missed.


A Cardiac Arrest:

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart beats fast and wildly or stops beating altogether. This can happen due to an abrupt disturbance in the heart’s internal electrical system that normally regulates the heart beat. The heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other vital organs and without treatment, the outcome is usually fatal.

Usually there are no early warning signs. Within seconds the person collapses, is not breathing or may be only gasping. This can occur in a person with or without heart disease and may occur after a heart attack.


How to tell the difference:

With a heart attack the person usually has a pulse, is breathing and can respond to questions.

With cardiac arrest the person has no pulse, is not breathing and is unresponsive.


What to do:

In Ireland Call 999 or 112

In a heart attack, even if you are not sure the person is having a heart attack every minute can matter. Keep the person comfortable and stay with them until help arrives.

Cardiac arrest can be reversible if it is treated rapidly. After calling 999 start CPR. If an automated defibrillator (AED) is available use it as soon as possible.

For more about heart attack you can view our heart attack article, or learn CPR on one of our CPR training courses. And as always you can contact our nurse helpline on Freephone 1800 25 25 50 for more advice or information.


4. What is an aneurysm?


A swelling of the wall of an artery, vein or the heart due to weakening of its wall by disease, injury or an abnormality present at birth is called an aneurysm.

The main issues concerning aneurysms are that the weakened wall may rupture, causing internal bleeding. Less often the swollen vessel can squeeze other structures and interfere with their function. The growth of an aneurysm can be aggravated by high blood pressure.

A stroke can result if an aneurysm ruptures in the brain. This can be life threatening and requires immediate medical treatment. Most brain aneurysms however don’t rupture and are detected when having tests for other conditions.


Detecting an Aneurysm

Cerebral Aneurysms (in the brain) are diagnosed by imaging techniques such as computed tomography (C.T.) or M.R.I. (magnetic resonance imaging).

Aneurysms vary in size and may grow at different rates. You may be totally unaware that you have an aneurysm or it may produce some pain if it presses on nearby structures


Managing an Aneurysm

If an aneurysm is sufficiently large or there is evidence that it is weak or already partially ruptured, your doctor will have it treated urgently. Treatment of a brain aneurysm is by securing a metal clip around the base of the aneurysm.


5. What is the difference between an ICD (implanted defibrillator) and a pacemaker?

A pacemaker keeps your heart beating in a regular rhythm and keeps your heart from beating too slowly. It delivers a series of small electrical impulses when your heart is beating too slow. This is called pacing. In many cases, a pacemaker may be working constantly to keep your heart rhythm regular.

An ICD is designed to monitor your heart rhythm and to detect and treat fast or erratic heart rhythms (arrhythmias) that may cause cardiac arrest. It can act like a pacemaker when the heart is beating too fast by pacing the heart or it may deliver an electric shock to remedy more serious abnormalities. Unlike a pacemaker, an ICD will only activate these treatments when it detects a life-threatening rhythm abnormality.



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