A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. This blockage is usually a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances which forms a plaque in the coronary arteries Once the blockage forms, a part of your heart muscle will not be able to receive enough blood flow. As time goes by, its damage to your heart muscle will be greater and greater. Eventually, your heart attack can be fatal. Call 911 or emergency medical help to have treatment in time if you think you may be suffering from a heart attack.
In the USA, about 790,000 Americans are affected by heart attack every year, among which 580,000 people have a heart attack for the first time, and 210,000 people have already a first heart attack.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. It is possible that some people don’t have any signs or symptoms of developing a heart attack. This condition can be called silent heart attack. However, others may have very severe pain. What is certain is that the more symptoms you have, the more likely you are to have a heart attack.
Coronary heart disease is a main cause of a heart attack. Coronary arteries are responsible for supplying oxygen-rich blood to your heart. When the plaque, which is a waxy substance, forms in your coronary arteries, coronary heart disease will occur. An area of plaque can break open inside of an artery, after which a blood clot may take shape on its surface. If this clot grows large enough, blood flow through a coronary artery may be completely blocked.
Another possible cause is coronary artery spasm. It can cut off blood flow through the artery. Although it remains unknown what contributes to this condition, the spasm may be associated with:
- Taking certain drugs, such as cocaine
- Emotional stress or pain
- Exposure to extreme cold
- Cigarette smoking
Some factors that you can’t control may increase your risk of a heart attack, such as:
Men after 45 and women after age 55 have a higher risk than others
- Family history of early heart disease
Your risk will increase if a male member in your family is diagnosed with heart disease before 55, or a female member is diagnosed with heart disease before 65.
Preeclampsia, a condition develops during pregnancy, may increase your lifetime risk of heart disease, including not only heart attack, but also CHD, heart failure and high blood pressure.
This includes smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke.
- High blood pressure
Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that feed your heart. High blood pressure that occurs with other conditions, such as obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes, increases your risk even more.
Understand more about high blood pressure and its hazard
- High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels
A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries. A high level of triglycerides, a type of blood fat related to your diet, also ups your risk of heart attack. However, a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) lowers your risk of heart attack.
Understand more about high cholesterol and its hazard
Obesity is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lower this risk, however.
Not producing enough of a hormone secreted by your pancreas (insulin) or not responding to insulin properly causes your body’s blood sugar levels to rise, increasing your risk of heart attack.
Understand more about diabetes and its hazard
Usually, an emergency team will first ask your symptoms and check your blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Then, they will monitor you heart and perform tests to confirm a diagnosis, such as:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG).
- Blood tests.
After you have been diagnosed with a heart attack, doctors may use some additional tests to help treat your condition. These tests involve:
- Chest X-ray: allows your doctor to check the size of your heart and its blood vessels and to look for fluid in your lungs.
- Echocardiogram: helps identify whether an area of your heart has been damaged and isn’t pumping normally.
- Coronary catheterization (angiogram): makes the arteries visible to your doctors on X-ray, revealing areas of blockage.
- Exercise stress test: measures how your heart and blood vessels respond to exertion.
- Cardiac CT or MRI: diagnoses heart problems, including the extent of damage from heart attacks.
A heart attack requires immediate treatment. An early treatment is crucial, for it can protect your heart from severe damage and sometimes even save your life.
Immediate treatment for a heart attack includes:
- Aspirin to prevent further blood clotting
- Nitroglycerin to reduce your heart’s workload and improve blood flow through the coronary arteries
- Oxygen therapy
- Treatment for chest pain
After the diagnosis is confirmed or a heart attack is strongly suspected, treatment aiming to restore blood flow through the blood vessels that supplies heart will be adopted. Two main options are clot-busting medicines and percutaneous coronary intervention.
- Clot-busting medicines, also known as clot busters, are used to dissolve blood clots that are blocking the coronary arteries.
- Percutaneous coronary intervention, a nonsurgical procedure, opens blocked or narrowed coronary arteries.
Other treatments include:
- Medicines: includes ACE inhibitors, Anticlotting medicines, Anticoagulants, Beta blockers, Statin medicines.
- Medical procedures (Coronary artery bypass grafting).
- Heart-healthy lifestyle changes: include heart-healthy eating, aiming for healthy weight, managing stress, physical activity and quitting smoking.
- Cardiac rehabilitation.
Keyword: heart attack.
You can help prevent heart disease by making healthy choices and managing any health conditions you may have.
- Practice healthy living habits.
By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar normal and lower your risk for heart disease and heart attack. A healthy lifestyle includes the following:
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Getting enough physical activity.
- Not smoking or using other forms of tobacco.
- Limiting alcohol use.
- Prevent or treat medical conditions.
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, you can take steps to lower your risk for heart disease.
- Check your cholesterol
- Manage your blood pressure
- Manage your blood sugar level
- Take your medicine
- See your cardiologist regularly