What is a Heart Attack?High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or smoking can damage the inner lining of arteries in the body. This leads to a build up of fatty substances and calcium called plaque. This may slow the flow of blood to the heart muscle and begin coronary artery disease or peripheral vascular disease. If this buildup continues, blood flow to the heart muscle is severely decreased, and less oxygen is brought to the heart. This lack of oxygen to the heart muscle may cause a range of sensations called angina: burning, numbness, pressure to severe pain in the chest, arms, jaw, throat or upper back.
A heart attack (myocardial infarction) may occur if the blood flow is blocked by a blood clot in the narrowed artery. Without blood flow carrying oxygen, the heart muscle (myocardium) in the area becomes permanently damaged.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Although it’s true that chest pain (angina pectoris) is the classic sign of a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI), it occurs in only about half of all cases. For those without chest pain, an MI may announce itself with symptoms such as breathlessness, exhaustion, nausea and sweating—either alone or in combination. Furthermore, many heart attacks begin gradually instead of suddenly, with symptoms coming and going over several hours. In fact, an impending MI can masquerade for days as unexplained back pain or indigestion until it ends in a life-threatening crisis.
For this reason, it’s essential to become acquainted with the warning signs of a heart attack, including those less commonly known. In addition to chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, be alert for heart attack signs and symptoms and seek immediate medical care if you or a loved one experiences them.
Heart Attack PreventionAlthough angioplasty and other interventional therapies can stop a heart attack in its tracks if performed early enough, prevention remains the best medicine. A healthy lifestyle combined with regular physical exams, cholesterol tests, periodic electrocardiograms and other measures to monitor heart health are the best defense against cardiovascular problems.