WHAT CAUSES A HEART ATTACK?
A heart attack happens if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked. Most heart attacks occur as a result of coronary heart disease (CHD).
CHD is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside of the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. The buildup of plaque occurs over many years. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open) inside of an artery.
This causes a blood clot to form on the plaque’s surface. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery.
If the blockage isn’t treated quickly, the portion of heart muscle fed by the artery begins to die. Healthy heart tissue is replaced with scar tissue. This heart damage may not be obvious, or it may cause severe or long-lasting problems.
A less common cause of heart attack is a severe spasm (tightening) of a coronary artery. The spasm cuts off blood flow through the artery. Spasms can occur in coronary arteries that aren’t affected by atherosclerosis. What causes a coronary artery to spasm isn’t always clear. A spasm may be related to:
Taking certain drugs, such as cocaine
Emotional stress or pain
Exposure to extreme cold
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF A HEART ATTACK?
Not all heart attacks begin with the sudden, crushing chest pain that often is shown on TV or in the movies.
In one study, for example, one-third of the patients who had heart attacks had no chest pain. These patients were more likely to be older, female, or diabetic.
The warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack aren’t the same for everyone. Many heart attacks start slowly as mild pain or discomfort. Some people don’t have symptoms at all. Heart attacks that occur without any symptoms or very mild symptoms are called silent heart attacks.
Chest Pain or Discomfort
The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. This includes new chest pain or discomfort or a change in the pattern of existing chest pain or discomfort.
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that often lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. The feeling can be mild or severe. Heart attack pain sometimes feels like indigestion or heartburn.
The symptoms of angina (an-JI-nuh or AN-juh-nuh) can be similar to the symptoms of a heart attack. Angina is chest pain that occurs in people who have coronary heart disease, usually when they’re active. Angina pain usually lasts for only a few minutes and goes away with rest. Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away or changes from its usual pattern (for example, occurs more often or while you’re resting) can be a sign of a heart attack. All chest pain should be checked by a doctor.
Other Common Signs and Symptoms
Other common signs and symptoms of a heart attack include new onset of:
Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach Shortness of breath, which may occur with or before chest discomfort Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness, or breaking out in a cold sweat Sleep problems, fatigue (tiredness), or lack of energy
Not everyone having a heart attack has typical symptoms. If you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. However, some people may have a pattern of symptoms that recur.
The more signs and symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you’re having a heart attack.
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack can develop suddenly.
However, they also can develop slowly—sometimes within hours, days, or weeks of a heart attack. Know the warning signs of a heart attack so you can act fast to get treatment for yourself or someone else. The sooner you get emergency help, the less damage your heart will sustain.
Call hospital for help right away if you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack. You also should call for help if your chest pain doesn’t go away as it usually does when you take medicine prescribed for angina.
Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.
Courtesy: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute