A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. It is important to seek treatment for a heart attack immediately, otherwise, further damage to the heart muscle can occur. If blood flow isn't restored quickly, the consequences could be fatal.
Heart attacks are a major killer in all parts of the world. But they can often be prevented. If you have ever had a heart attack or had to care for someone who has, you will know that it can seriously affect the life of both the individual and his or her family.
This section explains why heart attacks happen and how you can avoid them. It gives you tips to develop healthy habits, like eating a balanced diet and being physically active.
If you are at high risk, there is advice on the signs and symptoms to look out for. If you have already had a heart attack, this section provides information on how your condition can be treated and controlled, and how you can improve the quality of your life.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Symptoms can be mild and barely detectable or more intense and sudden. They also may come and go over several hours. Symptoms can include any of the following:
Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women. However, women are somewhat more likely to report less common symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting and pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw. Those with diabetes are also more likely to experience no symptoms or very mild ones.
If you think that you or someone you know may be having a heart attack, you should call for emergency medical help immediately.
Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. If blood flow isn't restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die.
Coronary heart disease is when coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque. When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle and cause a heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm of a coronary artery, which also can prevent blood supply from reaching the heart.
A heart attack can be fatal. It is important to seek treatment for a heart attack immediately, otherwise, further damage to the heart muscle can occur.
If you're having a heart attack or suspect you're having one, your diagnosis will likely happen in an emergency setting. You'll be asked to describe your symptoms and will have your pulse, blood pressure and temperature checked. Tests will begin almost immediately to determine whether you are indeed having a heart attack. These tests include:
With each passing minute after a heart attack, more heart tissue loses oxygen and deteriorates or dies. The main way to prevent heart damage is early treatment to restore blood flow quickly. Calling for emergency help immediately, at the first symptoms of a heart attack, can save your life.
Once the diagnosis of a heart attack is confirmed or strongly suspected, doctors start treatments to try to promptly restore blood flow to the heart. Your treatment depends on the severity of your condition and the amount of damage to your heart. You may be treated with medications or undergo medical procedures. These include:
Adopting a healthy lifestyle can prevent coronary heart disease, the leading cause of heart attacks. To improve your heart health: