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.
Symptoms of mild heart attacks may last for just two to five minutes and then stop with rest, but a full heart attack where there is complete blockage can last for more than 20 minutes.
Recovery time from a heart attack depends on the amount of damage to the heart muscle. Some people may be well enough to return to work two weeks after suffering a heart attack, but others may take several months to recover.
What Are Symptoms of Heart Attacks?
Symptoms of heart attacks may include:
- Chest pain (angina)
- May be sudden
- Sensation of squeezing or fullness
- Mild chest pressure or discomfort
- May feel like heartburn
- 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
- 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
The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is chest pain, however, 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 9-1-1 immediately. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
What Causes Heart Attacks?
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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