How Can You Detect a Heart Attack?

Reviewed on 5/13/2022

Elderly man having his heart symptoms checked by a doctor
Diagnostic tests that may detect a heart attack include the electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests (cardiac troponin test), chest X-ray, echocardiogram (“echo”), cardiac catheterization (angiogram), cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan, and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) happens when blood flow from the coronary arteries to the heart is reduced or blocked completely. When this occurs, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, causing damage to the heart. 

If a heart attack is suspected, it is diagnosed with a patient history and physical exam along with diagnostic tests such as:

What Are Symptoms of Heart Attacks?

The most common symptoms you are having a heart attack may include: 

  • Chest pain (angina
    • The most common symptom in men and women
    • May start suddenly 
    • Mild chest pressure or discomfort
    • May feel like heartburn
    • Sensation of squeezing or fullness
    • Lasts for more than a few minutes
    • May go away and come back
  • Pain, tingling, or discomfort in other areas of the body
    • One or both arms
    • Back
    • Neck
    • Jaw
    • Stomach
  • Shortness of breath (may occur with or without chest pain)
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Heartburn
  • Cold sweats/clammy skin
  • Racing or irregular heartbeat
  • Belching
  • Back or jaw 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 have symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. Do not drive yourself. 

What Causes Heart Attacks?

The main cause of most heart attacks is coronary artery disease, a condition that develops over time in which plaque builds up along on the walls of the coronary arteries and narrows the channels through which blood flows. 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 commonly a heart attack may be caused by:

  • Temporary spasm of a coronary artery 
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection

What Is the Treatment for Heart Attacks?

A heart attack is a medical emergency. If have symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. Do not drive yourself. 

A heart attack is treated in a hospital’s emergency department and treatment may include:

QUESTION

In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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Reviewed on 5/13/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/heart-attack-the-basics?search=What%20Are%20The%204%20Signs%20of%20An%20Impending%20Heart%20Attack%3F&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=2

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/what-can-go-wrong-after-a-heart-attack-the-basics?search=What%20Are%20The%204%20Signs%20of%20An%20Impending%20Heart%20Attack%3F&topicRef=15786&source=see_link

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5459400/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/

https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=05a80ce6-a1e4-4ad4-b7c8-48645d2ba703