A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) occurs when blood flow from the coronary arteries to the heart is reduced or blocked completely. When this happens, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, damaging the heart.
Heart attacks usually hurt. The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is chest pain (angina). The chest pain may come on suddenly, last for more than a few minutes, and may go away and come back.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
The pain caused by a heart attack may feel like squeezing or fullness, heartburn, or mild chest pressure or discomfort.
Pain, tingling, or discomfort may also be felt in other areas of the body when a heart attack occurs, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, and/or stomach.
Other symptoms of heart attacks may include:
- Shortness of breath (may occur with or without chest pain)
- Extreme fatigue
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold sweats/clammy skin
- Racing or irregular heartbeat
- Back or jaw pain
While the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is chest pain, women are more likely to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
What Causes a Heart Attack?
Coronary artery disease, a condition that develops over time in which plaque builds up along the walls of the coronary arteries and narrows the channels through which blood flows, is the primary cause of most heart attacks. If a plaque ruptures a blood clot can occur which can block off the artery and prevent blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle, causing a heart attack
Less common causes of heart attack include:
- Temporary spasm of a coronary artery
- Spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which is a tearing of the coronary artery wall
How Are Heart Attacks Diagnosed?
If a heart attack is suspected, it is diagnosed with a patient history and physical exam along with diagnostic tests such as:
What Is the Treatment for Heart Attacks?
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. Do not attempt to drive yourself.
A heart attack is treated in a hospital’s emergency department and treatment may include:
- Pain medications
- Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Thrombolytics (clot busters) given intravenously (IV)
Surgical treatment for heart attack is a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), in which a blocked coronary artery is bypassed using a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body.
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