Heart Attack

Published: February 6, 2012

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What Is It?

A myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, occurs when a section of the heart muscle dies due to the sudden blood clot blockage in the coronary artery. This blockage restricts the blood and oxygen supply to the heart, causing chest pain, problems breathing, and possible permanent injury. Symptoms vary from person to person, especially between men and women. Women are more prone to silent heart attacks that do not produce obvious symptoms.

Types

Heart attacks occur when blockages develop the left or right coronary artery. A blockage can also develop in both areas of the heart. The two classifications of heart attacks are based on whether the coronary artery is completely or partially blocked. A non-q-wave heart attack occurs because of a partial blockage, and a q-wave heart attack occurs because of a complete blockage.

Symptoms & Warning Signs

People who experience heart attacks report pain in the left arm that radiates to the shoulder. Other symptoms include chest pain, discomfort, and problems breathing. Pain might begin in the scapular area behind the chest and move to the jaw. People frequently feel a crushing sensation in the chest in addition to fatigue, blue skin discoloration, sweating, nausea, an abnormally fast pulse rate, and problems breathing.

Many people also report anxiety, restlessness, and fidgeting. Heart attacks may cause damage to the cardiac muscle if the symptoms are not treated promptly.

Causes & Risk Factors

People who have a family history of coronary disease are high heart attack risks. Other causes and risk factors include cigarette smoking, sedentary lifestyle, age, obesity, diabetes, stress, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Prevention & Treatment

If you experience a heart attack, you will need immediate treatment. The type of treatment varies based on the severity if your condition. Even if the heart attack has not been confirmed, the doctor will begin precautionary treatment by monitoring your oxygen and by giving you aspirin, a blood thinner, to prevent additional clotting.

To prevent a heart attack, people should keep up with regular checkups, cardiovascular exercises, and medication schedules. It is especially important to take precautions if you have already experienced a heart attack.

Tests & Diagnosis

A doctor will use multiple techniques to diagnose whether you 1) have experienced a heart attack, 2) are experiencing a heart attack, and 3) are at risk for a heart attack.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a test used to detect and record the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Certain blood test can help detect proteins that may be present when a heart vessel is ruptured during a heart attack.
  • A coronary angiography is an X-ray exam that checks whether the heart and blood vessels are blocked.

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