- Symptoms and Signs
What Is a Heart Attack?
What Are Symptoms of a Heart Attack?
If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not drive yourself to a hospital.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain (angina) or discomfort
- May feel like pressure, squeezing, or fullness
- Lasts for more than a few minutes
- May go away and come back
- Pain, tingling, or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Racing or irregular heartbeat
- Cold sweat/clammy skin
- Extreme fatigue
Both women and men tend to have chest pain or discomfort when a heart attack occurs, but women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, and back or jaw pain.
What Causes a Heart Attack?
The main cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease, a condition that develops over time in which plaque builds up along the walls of the coronary arteries, narrowing the channels through which blood flows. If a plaque ruptures, this can result in a blood clot which can block off the artery and prevent blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle, causing a heart attack.
Other 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 Is a Heart Attack Diagnosed?
If a heart attack is suspected, diagnostic tests may include:
What Is the Treatment for a Heart Attack?
Treatment for a heart attack in a hospital’s emergency department may include:
- Pain medications
- Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Thrombolytics (clot busters) given intravenously (IV)
- Stenting (inserting devices inside heart blood vessels to keep them open)
Surgical treatment for heart attack involves a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG).
What Are Complications of a Heart Attack?
Complications of a heart attack include:
What Is the Life Expectancy for a Heart Attack?
A heart attack is not necessarily fatal.
About one in five patients 45 years and older have another heart attack within five years of their first. Life expectancy after a heart attack depends on several factors, such as:
- Ethnicity: African Americans typically have a shorter post-heart attack life expectancy by about 6% compared with people of European descent.
- Gender: Women lose about 10% more of their life expectancy post-heart attack compared with men
How Do You Prevent a Heart Attack?
If you are at risk for having a heart attack, you may be able to prevent one from occurring or recurring in some cases.
- Take all medications for your heart or for blood clots as directed
- Eat a healthy diet low in fat and high in fiber (plant-based diets may be especially helpful for people with heart disease)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t smoke tobacco
- Manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
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National Institutes of Health