A heart attack happens when the blood supplying the heart muscle is cut off due to a blood clot in one of the heart’s arteries. If blood flow is not restored quickly, the section of the heart cut off from oxygen begins to die. The level of damage to the heart is dependent upon how long the blood supply is cut off.
A heart attack is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
CausesThe fundamental cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease. Some people don’t discover that they have coronary heart disease until they have a heart attack. For others, a heart attack can occur weeks or even years after a coronary heart disease diagnosis.
SymptomsChest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both genders. This can also present as uncomfortable chest pressure, a squeezing sensation, burning, or heaviness.
Lesser known heart attack symptoms are discomfort in the neck, shoulder, jaw, arms, and back.
Other symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
Some people will experience a combination of symptoms, while others will experience only one. Symptoms do not always present as sudden or severe.
Cardiac Arrest vs a Heart AttackA common misconception is that cardiac arrest and heart attacks are the same thing. This is not the case. So, what’s the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?
In short, cardiac arrest is an electrical problem, whereas a heart attack is a circulation problem.
Cardiac Arrestoccurs when the heart suddenly stops beating due to a problem with electrical signals to the heart muscle.
Heart Attack happens when the blood supplying the heart muscle is cut off due to a blood clot in one of the heart’s arteries.
Heart attacks cause chest pain, and though symptoms can be less severe than with cardiac arrest, permanent damage to the heart can occur. During a heart attack, the heart is still sending blood to the body and you will be conscious and breathing.
Diagnosis Your doctor will diagnose a heart attack by assessing your symptoms as well as your medical and family history.
Common tests include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) – to measure the heart’s electrical activity
- Blood tests – to identify tell-tale proteins
- Cardiac catheterization – to show which arteries are blocked and see how your heart is functioning
TreatmentHeart attacks require immediate treatment. Early treatment is essential to get blood flowing back into the damaged portion of the heart muscle, restoring oxygen and reducing the amount of permanent damage.
In order to unblock the coronary artery, you may require:
- Primary angioplasty, to re-open the blocked coronary artery by inserting one or more stents to help keep the narrowed artery open
- Thrombolysis, medicine to dissolve the blood clot blocking the artery
A number of lifestyle factors increase your chances of getting coronary heart disease (and therefore heart attacks), including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Low or no physical activity
Cardiac Rehab After a heart attack, your doctor will likely refer you to cardiac rehabilitation. This includes specialist advice, support, and physical activity.