A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked. If the flow of blood isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle becomes damaged from lack of oxygen and begins to die.
If the heart muscle does not have enough blood (and consequently oxygen) it dies and a heart attack occurs.
According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, a heart attack is "infarction of a segment of heart muscle, usually due to occlusion of a coronary artery". (Infarction = the process whereby an area of dead tissue is caused by a loss of blood supply).
Heart attack is a leading killer of both men and women in the United States. But fortunately, today there are excellent treatments for heart attack that can save lives and prevent disabilities. Treatment is most effective when started within 1 hour of the beginning of symptoms.
Heart attack mostly happen because of:
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Lead an inactive lifestyle (doing less than 30 minutes physical activity per day, on most days)
- Have diabetes
- Are overweight or obese
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high blood cholesterol
Symptoms of a heart attack
Heart attack symptoms make the patient feel severe pain in the centre of their chest. This central chest pain is often described as heaviness, squeezing or crushing, and may come on suddenly causing them to collapse. The pain sometimes feels like severe indigestion. Other symptoms include:
- Pain spreading to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach
- Feeling sweaty and breathless
- Feeling sick or vomiting
- Chest discomfort, mild pain
- Crushing chest pain
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Face seems gray
- A feeling of terror that your life is coming to its end
- Feeling really awful (general feeling)
- The symptoms of a heart attack can come on suddenly, but sometimes the pain develops more slowly. If they already have angina (narrowing of their coronary arteries without complete blockage), they will find that the pain of a heart attack won't completely respond to their usual medicine (eg glyceryl trinitrate, or GTN). Heart-attack pain continues for longer than angina and can last for hours.