A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, is a medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart muscle is interrupted.
A heart attack can be a frightening experience. It is important to know how to recognize and respond to a heart attack to minimize the damage done to your body. In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms of a heart attack, as well as the best way to respond.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, is a medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart muscle is interrupted. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 800,000 individuals in the United States suffer a heart attack each year.
A heart attack is not the same as cardiac arrest, which happens when your heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. A heart attack can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease.
This can be caused by a blockage in one or more of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Heart attacks can lead to serious health complications, including death.
A buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the heart (coronary) arteries is generally responsible. Plaques are fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits that form over time.
Atherosclerosis is the process of plaque accumulation. A plaque can break open and form a clot that prevents blood flow, especially if it’s growing in an unhealthy location (such as within an artery). When blood does not flow properly, it may damage or destroy cardiac muscle tissue.
What causes a heart attack?
The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked by plaque. This can happen gradually over time.
Other causes of a heart attack include:
- A blood clot that forms in an artery that’s already narrow or blocked
- An injury to the heart, such as from a car accident
- A tear in the lining of the artery
- A spasm in a coronary artery causes severe squeezing of a blood vessel that’s not blocked.
Risk factors of a heart attack
A lack of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle) is linked to a higher risk of a heart attack. There are many other risk factors for heart attacks, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Unhealthy food and a diet high in saturated fat can raise your cholesterol levels.
- Excessive alcohol use
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort. This pain can feel like a squeezing, fullness, or heaviness.
Other symptoms may include:
- Pain in the jaw, neck, back, or arm
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people may experience only mild symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms.
If you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack, it’s important to call 911 right away. Do not wait to see if the symptoms go away.
Time is critical when a heart attack occurs. Every minute that passes without treatment, the damage to the heart muscle gets worse. When treating a heart attack, the goal is to restore blood flow to the heart as quickly as possible.
The earlier a heart attack is treated, the less damage to the heart and the better the chances for a full recovery.
Warning signs of heart attack
As heart attacks can be fatal, it is crucial to recognize the warnings as soon as possible and contact emergency services.
Heart attack warning signs include a feeling of pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing, or aching in the chest pain that spreads to the arms, neck, jaw, or back. A feeling of crushing or heaviness in the chest, a feeling similar to heartburn or indigestion, nausea and sometimes vomiting, feeling clammy and sweaty, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or dizziness.
If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.
How is a heart attack diagnosed?
A heart attack is diagnosed through a combination of a physical exam, medical history, and tests.
The most common test used to diagnose a heart attack is an electrocardiogram (ECG). This test measures the electrical activity of your heart and can help to identify if there has been damage to the heart muscle.
Other tests that may be used to diagnose a heart attack include:
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Coronary angiogram: This is an X-ray of the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart. It can help to identify blockages in these arteries.
How is a heart attack treated?
Treatment for a heart attack usually begins with medications. These medications can help to restore blood flow to the heart and improve symptoms. When a patient who has a heart attack is admitted to the hospital and receives oxygen treatment and pain medicine, their chance of survival is greatly increased.
Some of the most common medications used to treat a heart attack include:
- Antiplatelet medications
- Beta-blockers promote blood flow to the heart, improve the blood supply, prevent arrhythmias, and decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
- ACE inhibitors
- Fibrinolytic therapy. This is the intravenous infusion of a medicine that dissolves the blood clot, restoring blood flow.
Other treatments for a heart attack may include:
- Coronary angioplasty and stenting: When a blockage occurs in the heart’s arteries, this treatment is used to unblock them. A small tube, called a catheter, is inserted into the artery. A balloon is then inflated to open the blocked artery. In some cases, a small wire mesh tube, called a stent, is placed in the artery to help keep it open.
- Heart bypass surgery: This is a surgical procedure that is used to create a new path for blood to flow around a blocked artery.
- Rehabilitation: After a heart attack, you will likely need to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program. This program will help you to make lifestyle changes and improve your overall health.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): This is a small device that is placed under the skin. It monitors your heart’s electrical activity and can deliver a shock to the heart if necessary.
If you have a heart attack, in addition to taking prescribed medicines, it’s important to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of having another heart attack. Some lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk of heart disease include:
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce stress
- Limit alcohol consumption
Making these lifestyle changes can help you to live a healthier life and reduce your risk of having another heart attack.
A heart attack can lead to complications, such as:
- Heart failure
- Valve problems
- Infection of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
Recognizing the warning signs of a heart attack and getting treatment quickly can help to minimize the complications of a heart attack.
If you’ve had a heart attack, it’s important to see your doctor regularly and take medications as prescribed. Taking these steps can help you to reduce your risk of having another heart attack and improve your overall health.