Heart Attack

What is a heart attack?

Your heart is a muscle that is fed by blood vessels called coronary arteries. When the coronary arteries become obstructed, due to a blood clot caused by plaque buildup or a spasm of the artery, blood flow through the arteries can become blocked and a heart attack can result. If that happens, a section of the heart muscle begins to die, and healthy heart muscle is then replaced with scar tissue. This can cause severe or long-lasting problems, including heart failure or arrhythmias.

If you think that you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Heart attack symptoms are different for everyone: men and women experience different symptoms, and some people don’t have any symptoms at all.

Typical heart attack symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body discomfort (neck, jaw, arms, back or stomach)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or severe indigestion
  • Shortness of breath or lightheadedness
  • Sweating at rest
  • Panic or anxiety

Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms other than chest pain, and sometimes these symptoms can be difficult for a doctor to figure out.

Methods of treatment

Even before a heart attack is diagnosed, doctors may administer aspirin to prevent future clots, nitroglycerin to improve blood flow through the coronary arteries, oxygen and medication for chest pain. After diagnosis, medication to dissolve blood clots, to lower blood pressure or decrease the workload on the heart, or to relieve other symptoms may be given. Doctors may also perform an angioplasty or a bypass if necessary.

After a heart attack, it is important to improve health in order to prevent a second heart attack from occurring. Take medications as prescribed and participate in cardiac rehab, if necessary, and work to control other conditions that increase heart attack risk, such as hyperlipidemia, hypertension and diabetes. It is also important to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk, such as eating a heart-healthy diet, being physically active and quitting smoking.