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What Exactly Is A Heart Attack

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Symptoms Of A Heart Attack

What Actually Is A Heart Attack? Cardiologist Explains

The symptoms of a heart attack are varied and often different for different people. Many think that massive pain in the chest area is the major symptom of a heart attack. It is dramatic and for the TV cameras, but it is not the only or major symptom that precludes a heart attack.

One can have much less painful symptoms and still be having a heart attack. You may be in the throes of a heart attack and not even recognize that is the problem.

The best place to be is the Emergency Department of a hospital, being attended by emergency room personnel. They will start an IV for just in case. Your heart rate, oxygen level, and blood pressure will be monitored. If indeed you are having a heart attack or a mild heart attack, by being in the ED, you are in a position to increase your odds of being a survivor.

Symptoms include:

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat.
  • Feeling unusually tired for no reason.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Light-headedness or sudden dizziness.
  • Most chest pain involves quite a bit of pain in the center or the left side of the chest. It may be a tightening in the chest area and may be constant or may go away and then come back. It often may feel like heartburn or indigestion.

    This chest pain may include pain in different areas of your body including in one or both arms, your back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or even the upper part of your stomach above your belly button.

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    What Are The Symptoms Of Heart Attack

    The major symptoms of a heart attack are

    • Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
    • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
    • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
    • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
    • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.

    Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms. Learn more about women and heart disease.

    Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.1Learn more facts about heart attack and heart disease.

    What Does A Heart Attack Feel Like

    Some of the sensations you may feel during a heart attack include:

    • Chest pain that can range from mild to severe, or an uncomfortable pressure, tightness, squeezing or heaviness in your chest. The discomfort can last more than a few minutes at a time and sometimes goes away for a short time but returns later.
    • Pain or a sensation of being squeezed that starts in the upper back.
    • Pain that starts from your left shoulder and arm, and goes into other areas such as your back, jaw, neck or right arm.
    • Pain that feels like heartburn or indigestion.

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    How Is A Heart Attack Diagnosed

    Several tests may be ordered to determine if you’ve experienced a heart attack. These include:

    12-lead ECG

    The 12-lead ECG can help to tell what type of heart attack you’ve had and where it has occurred. This is one of the first tests done. Frequently paramedics will do this test where you had the potential heart attack or on the way to the hospital.

    In addition, your heart rate and rhythm can be watched. You’ll also be connected with leads to a monitor for continuous monitoring of your heart rate and rhythm.

    Blood studies

    Blood may be drawn to measure levels of biochemical markers. These markers are found inside your body’s cells and are needed for their function. When your heart muscle cells are injured, their contents –including the markers — are released into your bloodstream. By measuring the levels of these markers, your doctors can determine the size of the heart attack and approximately when the heart attack started. Other blood tests may also be performed.


    An echo can be performed during and after a heart attack to learn about how your heart is pumping and identify areas of your heart that are not pumping normally. The echo is also valuable to see if any structures of the heart have been injured during the heart attack.

    Cardiac catheterization

    Can You Have Another Heart Attack


    After having a heart attack, you are at risk of having another one. Many people do not recognise their next heart attack, as it may feel different to the first one.

    If you think you may be having a heart attack and you have already had one:

    • Stop and rest. Tell someone how you feel
    • If you take angina medication and the symptoms have not been relieved within 10 minutes, or if the symptoms are severe or getting worse,
    • Dial 111 and ask for an ambulance. If instructed and aspirin is available, take one.

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    What To Do If You Recognize A Heart Attack

    If you think theres any chance you or someone else may be having a heart attack, you need to get medical help as quickly as possible. Even if it turns out to be something else, it is better to act quickly than risk putting your life on the line.

    If you recognize the signs of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. The sooner that treatment begins, the greater likelihood that you can minimize damage to the heart.

    The person having the symptoms should not drive. Always have someone else drive you to the hospital if you are not being transported by ambulance.

    If the person goes unconscious, you can start cardiopulmonary resuscitation while you wait for emergency medical services . If you are in a public place, ask if there is an AED on site. An AED is a portable device that can check someone’s heart rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electric shock to help someone who is in cardiac arrest.

    Find trainings in CPR and AED use through the American Red Cross, so you are prepared if you are ever in an emergency situation.

    Heart Attack Warning Signs And Symptoms

    Recognising the symptoms of a heart attack and calling Triple Zero could save your life or the life of a loved one. Its important that everyone, both male and female, know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack, because early treatment is vital. The longer a blockage is left untreated, the more damage occurs. The most common heart attack warning signs are:

    • Chest discomfort or pain . This can feel like uncomfortable pressure, aching, numbness, squeezing, fullness or pain in your chest. This discomfort can spread to your arms, neck, jaw or back. It can last for several minutes or come and go
    • Dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint or feeling anxious
    • Nausea, indigestion, vomiting
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing with or without chest discomfort
    • Sweating or a cold sweat.

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    Is All Chest Pain A Heart Attack

    No. One very common type of chest pain is called angina. Its a recurring discomfort that usually lasts only a few minutes. Angina occurs when your heart muscle doesnt get the blood supply and oxygen that it needs.

    The difference between angina and a heart attack is that angina attacks dont permanently damage the heart muscle.

    There are different types of angina, including:

    • Stable angina, or angina pectoris Stable angina often occurs during exercise or emotional stress when your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and your heart muscle needs more oxygen. Learn more about stable angina.
    • Unstable angina, sometimes referred to as acute coronary syndrome Unstable angina occurs while you may be resting or sleeping, or with little physical exertion. It comes as a surprise. Unstable angina can lead to a heart attack and it should be treated as an emergency. Learn more about unstable angina.

    Ambulance And Emergency Room

    What is a heart attack

    Treatment begins in the ambulance and emergency room. You may get oxygen if you need it. You may get morphine if you need pain relief.

    The goal of your health care team will be to prevent permanent heart muscle damage by restoring blood flow to your heart as quickly as possible.

    Treatment includes:

    • Nitroglycerin. It opens up the arteries of the heart to help blood flow back to the heart.
    • Beta-blockers. These drugs lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and the workload of the heart.

    You also will receive medicines to stop blood clots. These are given to prevent blood clots from getting bigger so blood can flow to the heart. Some medicines will break up blood clots to increase blood flow. You might be given:

    • Aspirin, which you chew as soon as possible after calling 911.
    • Antiplatelet medicine.
    • Thrombolytics.

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    Causes Incidence And Risk Factors

    Most heart attacks are caused by a clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries . The clot usually forms in a coronary artery that has been previously narrowed from changes related to atherosclerosis. The atherosclerotic plaque inside the arterial wall sometimes cracks, and this triggers the formation of a clot, also called a thrombus.

    A clot in the coronary artery interrupts the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle, leading to the death of heart cells in that area. The damaged heart muscle loses its ability to contract, and the remaining heart muscle needs to compensate for that weakened area.

    Occasionally, sudden overwhelming stress can trigger a heart attack.

    It is difficult to estimate exactly how common heart attacks are because as many as 200,000 to 300,000 people in the United States die each year before medical help is sought. It is estimated that approximately 1 million patients visit the hospital each year with a heart attack.

    The risk factors for coronary artery disease and heart attack include:

    • Smoking
    • Heredity

    Many of the risk factors listed are related to being overweight.

    Newer risk factors for coronary artery disease have been identified over the past several years, including elevated homocysteine, C-reactive protein, and fibrinogen levels. High homocysteine can be treated with folic acid supplements in the diet. Studies are still ongoing about the practical value of these new factors.

    How Is A Heart Attack Different From Cardiac Arrest

    People often use these terms to mean the same thing, but they describe different events.

    A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Its a circulation problem.

    With sudden cardiac arrest , the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. Sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem.

    A heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest. In cardiac arrest , death results when the heart suddenly stops working properly. This is caused by irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias.

    The most common arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation. This is when the hearts lower chambers suddenly start beating chaotically and dont pump blood. Death occurs within minutes after the heart stops.

    Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR is performed and a defibrillator is used within minutes to shock the heart and restore a normal heart rhythm.

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    In The Ambulance And Emergency Room

    Treatment for a heart attack or unstable angina begins with medicines in the ambulance and emergency room. This treatment is similar for both. The goal is to prevent permanent heart muscle damage or prevent a heart attack by restoring blood flow to your heart as quickly as possible.

    You may receive:

    • Morphine for pain relief.
    • Oxygen therapy to increase oxygen in your blood.
    • Nitroglycerin to open up the arteries to the heart to help blood to flow to the heart.
    • Beta-blockers to lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and the workload of the heart.

    You also will receive medicines to stop blood clots so blood can flow to the heart. Some medicines will break up blood clots to increase blood flow. You might be given:

    • Aspirin, which you chew as soon as possible after calling 911.
    • Antiplatelet medicine.

    What Should You Do If You Think You Are Having A Heart Attack

    Heart Attack

    If you have symptoms of a heart attack, act fast. Quick treatment could save your life.

    If your doctor has prescribed nitroglycerin for angina:

  • Take 1 dose of nitroglycerin and wait 5 minutes.
  • If your symptoms don’t improve or if they get worse, 911 or other emergency services. Describe your symptoms, and say that you could be having a heart attack.
  • Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will tell you what to do. The operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Aspirin helps keep blood from clotting, so it may help you survive a heart attack.
  • Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • If you do not have nitroglycerin:

  • 911 or other emergency services now. Describe your symptoms, and say that you could be having a heart attack.
  • Stay on the phone. The emergency operator will tell you what to do. The operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Aspirin helps keep blood from clotting, so it may help you survive a heart attack.
  • Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • The best choice is to go to the hospital in an ambulance. The paramedics can begin life-saving treatments even before you arrive at the hospital. If you cannot reach emergency services, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. Do not drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other choice.

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    What Is Angina And Why Is Unstable Angina A Concern

    Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease. Angina occurs when there is not enough blood flow to the heart. Angina can be dangerous. So it is important to pay attention to your symptoms, know what is typical for you, learn how to control it, and know when to call for help.

    Symptoms of angina include chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest. Some people feel pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.

    There are two types of angina:

    • Stable angina means that you can usually predict when your symptoms will happen. You probably know what things cause your angina. For example, you know how much activity usually causes your angina. You also know how to relieve your symptoms with rest or nitroglycerin.
    • Unstable angina means that your symptoms have changed from your typical pattern of stable angina. Your symptoms do not happen at a predictable time. For example, you may feel angina when you are resting. Your symptoms may not go away with rest or nitroglycerin.

    Unstable angina is an emergency. It may mean that you are having a heart attack.

    Honorhealth’s Commitment To Heart Attack Treatment

    Surviving and recovering from a heart attack depends on two factors:

    • The size of heart muscle affected by a blocked artery.
    • How quickly the blockage is treated.

    HonorHealth’s emergency cardiac care specialists live by the slogan “time is muscle.” The sooner we can provide emergency care that restores blood flow to your heart, the more likely youll survive without lasting heart damage.

    One critical measure of emergency heart care is “door-to-balloon time” the time that elapses between your arrival in an emergency department and the moment a coronary artery is re-opened with a balloon catheter, if appropriate. HonorHealth has refined its processes to consistently perform far better than the national standard of 90 minutes.

    Likewise, four HonorHealth medical centers are certified Cardiac Arrest Centers, meaning that we provide specialized cardiac care that increases survival rates. One example is reducing patients’ core temperature immediately following cardiac arrest, aiding chances of survival and full neurological recovery.

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    What Do I Do If I Have A Heart Attack

    After a heart attack, you need quick treatment to open the blocked artery and lessen the damage. At the first signs of a heart attack, call 911. The best time to treat a heart attack is within 1 or 2 hours after symptoms begin. Waiting longer means more damage to your heart and a lower chance of survival.

    If youâve called emergency services and are waiting for them to arrive, chew an aspirin . Aspirin is a potent inhibitor of blood clots and can lower the risk of death from a heart attack by 25%.

    Mood And Heart Failure

    Heart Attack – Warming Signs, Causes and Treatment Options

    Its normal to feel low or sad from time to time. You may feel down about your symptoms and new limitations, or feel that you have a lack of control over your life.Some people find it very difficult to live with the uncertainty of having heart failure. But learning about your condition and being involved in making decisions about your treatment will all help you to feel more in control and may help to relieve anxiety. Its also important to discuss your worries with your family and close friends so they can support you.

    Stress affects different people in different ways. People who dont manage their stress well may turn to unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or snacking on unhealthy foods. Knowing what triggers the stress can help you to tackle the problem. Finding healthy ways of coping with stress and learning to relax can help you manage your heart failure. Read more about coping with stress.

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