Potential complications from a heart attack can vary widely, from mild to life threatening.

Some people experience a "minor" heart attack (although it can still be very serious) with no associated complications. This is also known as an uncomplicated heart attack.

Other people experience a major heart attack, which has a wide range of potential complications and may require extensive treatment.


An arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat and can include:

Arrhythmias can develop after a heart attack as a result of damage to the heart muscles. Damaged muscles disrupt electrical signals that control the heart.

Arrhythmias can cause symptoms such as:

Other arrhythmias can be life threatening, including:

These life-threatening types of arrhythmia can be a major cause of death during the 24 to 48 hours after a heart attack.

However, survival rates have improved significantly since the invention of the portable defibrillator – an external device that delivers an electric shock to the heart and "resets" it to the right rhythm.

Mild arrhythmias can usually be controlled with medicine such as beta blockers.

If you've had ventricular arrythmias, you may have a small electrical device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) surgically implanted in your chest.

This sends an automatic shock to the heart to reset it to the right rhythm if you have any life-threatening arrythmias.

Bradycardias that cause repeated and prolonged symptoms may need to be treated with a pacemaker. This is an electric device surgically implanted in the chest to help regulate the heartbeat.

Find out more about cardiac arrest on the British Heart Foundation website.

Heart failure

Heart failure happens when your heart is unable to effectively pump blood around your body. It can develop after a heart attack if your heart muscle is extensively damaged. This usually happens in the left side of the heart (the left ventricle).

Symptoms of heart failure include:

Heart failure can be treated with a combination of medicines and, in some cases, surgery.

Find out more about treating heart failure.

Cardiogenic shock

Cardiogenic shock is similar to heart failure, but more serious. It develops when the heart muscle has been damaged so extensively it can no longer pump enough blood to maintain many of the body's functions.

Symptoms include:

A type of medicine called vasopressors (or inotropes) may be used. Vasopressors help squeeze (constrict) the blood vessels, which increases blood pressure and improves blood circulation.

Once the initial symptoms of cardiogenic shock have been stabilised, surgery may be required to improve the functioning of the heart. This may include percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) to open the blocked coronary blood vessels.

Another option is a coronary artery bypass graft (where a blood vessel from another part of your body is used to bypass any blockage).

Heart rupture

A heart rupture is an extremely serious but relatively uncommon complication of a heart attack where the heart's muscles, walls or valves split apart (rupture).

It can happen if the heart is significantly damaged during a heart attack and usually happens soon afterwards.

It can cause heart failure or cardiogenic shock. Open heart surgery is usually required to repair the damage.

Page last reviewed: 13 July 2023
Next review due: 13 July 2026