Table of Contents
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when something stops the flow of blood in your heart so that it cannot get the oxygen it needs.
More than a million Americans suffer a heart attack each year. A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction (MI). The word “myo” means muscle, “cardial” means heart, and “infarction” means muscle death due to anemia. This muscle death can cause permanent damage to your heart muscle.
Symptoms of Heart Attack
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, tightness, congestion, or pain in your chest or arm or under your chest bone
- Discomfort that enters your back, jaw, throat, or arm
- Constipation, constipation, or nausea (may sound like heartburn)
- Sweating, abdominal pain, vomiting, or dizziness
- Severe weakness, anxiety, fatigue, or shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Symptoms can vary from person to person or from one heart disease to another. Women are more likely to have these symptoms of a heart attack:
- Unusual tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Discomfort in your gut. It may sound like poor digestion.
- Discomfort in the neck, shoulder, or upper back
- With some heart attack, you will not see any symptoms (“silent” myocardial infarction). This is very common in people with diabetes.
Angina is not a condition or disease. It is a symptom, and it can sometimes indicate a heart attack. Feelings may occur through normal activities or hard work but go away when you are resting or taking nitroglycerin.
You may feel:
- Pressure, pain, constipation, or a feeling of fullness in the middle of the chest
- Pain or discomfort in the shoulder, arm, back, neck, or jaw
- Call 911 if it gets worse, lasts more than 5 minutes, or does not improve after taking nitroglycerin. Doctors call this an “unstable” condition, and it is an emergency that may be related to an impending heart attack.
If you do have “stable” angina instead, which is the most common type, your symptoms often occur with predictable factors (such as strong emotions, exercise, extreme heat and cold, or even heavy eating). Symptoms disappear when you take a break or take nitroglycerin as prescribed by your doctor. If not, call 911.
Your heart muscle needs regular supply of oxygenated blood. Your cardiovascular system supplies your heart with this vital blood supply. When you have coronary artery disease, those arteries become narrower, and blood cannot flow properly. When your blood is blocked, you have a heart attack.
Fats, calcium, proteins, and inflammatory cells form in your arteries to form plaques. These plaques are hard on the outside and soft and have mucus on the inside.
When the plaque hardens, the outer shell cracks. This is called a breakout. The platelets (the disk-like substances in your blood that help it break down) come into place, and then blood clots surround the plaque. When a blood clot blocks your arteries, your heart muscles, in turn, starve for oxygen. Soon the muscle cells die, causing permanent damage.
Rarely, a spasm in your coronary arteries may cause heart disease. During this flow of the heart, your arteries become narrowed or dilated and closed, interrupting the supply of blood to your cardiovascular system (ischemia). It can happen while you are resting or even if you do not have a serious coronary artery disease.
Each coronary artery sends blood to a different part of your heart muscle. How badly the muscles are damaged depends on the size of the area the blocked artery provides and the amount of time between attacks and treatment.
Your heart muscle begins to heal faster after a heart attack. This takes about 8 weeks. Like a scar on the skin, a scar builds up in the damaged area. But new scar tissue does not go the way it should. So your heart cannot pump too much after a heart attack. The extent to which that pumping capacity is affected depends on the size and location of the scar.
What if I Have a Heart Attack?
After a heart attack, you need immediate treatment to open the blocked artery and minimize damage. For the first signs of a heart attack, call 911. The best time to treat heart disease is between 1 or 2 hours after the onset of symptoms. Prolonged waiting means more damage to your heart and lower chance of survival.
If you call an ambulance and expect them to arrive, chew aspirin (325 mg). Aspirin is a powerful inhibitor of blood clots and can reduce the risk of death by heart attack by 25%.
What if Someone Has a Heart Attack?
Call 911 and start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if someone enters a cardiac arrest, in which case the heartbeat stops and the person does not respond. CPR does not restart the heart; but it does keep a person alive until medical help arrives.
An easy-to-use device called AED (automated external defibrillator) is available in most public places and can be used by almost anyone to treat cardiac arrest. This machine works by shocking the heart back to normal rhythm.
Tips to Prevent Heart Attack
The goal after your heart attack is to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of having another heart attack. Take your medication as prescribed, make healthy lifestyle changes, see your doctor for regular heart tests, and consider a cardiovascular rehabilitation program.
Why do I need to take drugs after a heart attack?
You can take certain drugs after a heart attack to:
- Prevent blood clots
- Help your heart work better
- Prevent plaque by lowering cholesterol
- You can take medications that treat irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, control chest pain, and treat heart failure.
Know the names of your medicines, what they are used for, and when you need them. Take your medicine with your doctor or nurse. Keep a list of all your medications, and take them to each doctor’s visit. If you have questions about them, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Sounds ridiculous, but don’t skip your medication. Most people do not take their medication as prescribed by their doctors. Find out what is keeping you from taking your medication – be it side effects, costs, or forgetfulness – and ask your doctor for help.
What lifestyle changes are needed after a heart attack?
To prevent heart disease and prevent further heart disease, follow your doctor’s advice. You may need to change your lifestyle. Here are some changes you can make that will reduce your risk and put you on the path to a healthier life:
Stop smoking: Smoking increases your risk of both heart attack and stroke. Talk to your doctor about how to stop. You will be kind to your friends and family, as smoking can lead to heart disease. You can also call the hotline number 800-QUIT-NOW and visit the smokefree.gov website.
Maintain a healthy weight: If you are overweight or obese, you do not need to lose weight to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. If you lose 5% to 10% of your weight, you will improve your cholesterol levels and lower your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Follow an exercise program: Moderate exercise lowers the risk of heart attack. It can also lower your blood pressure and LDL or “bad” cholesterol, raise HDL or “good” cholesterol, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Identify 30 minutes of exercise that makes your heart beat at least 5 days a week. Walking fast or swimming are some good choices. For another 2 days, do strength training, such as lifting weights. If you have a tight schedule, break up your exercise routine into smaller pieces.
Eat a healthy diet: Fill your plate with a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, and lean meats, such as skinless chicken. Also increase whole foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice and fish, especially those with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring.
Avocados, olive oil, and flax seeds also have omega-3s, like nuts and seeds. Low-fat or low-fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese are also a better choice for your heart than high-fat varieties.
Reduce junk food: Avoid processed or processed foods that are high in salt and sugar. They are also supplemented with preservatives. Avoid fatty beef, butter, fried foods, and palm oil. They all have full fat.
Skip sugary drinks like soda and frunch punch, which can lead to weight gain. Thus baked goods such as cookies, cakes, and pies can be packed. They are high in trans fats and can raise your cholesterol levels.
Limit alcohol: If you do not already drink, do not start. If you do drink, limit how much you drink. The recommendation is not to miss more than once a day if you are a woman and no more than two times a day if you are a man. Drinking raises your heart rate and blood pressure. It also increases the level of fat in your blood and can cause obesity.