In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarctions, are among the most common and serious cardiac conditions. When something prevents blood from flowing to the heart, the heart muscle begins to die, affecting the rest of the cardiovascular system and body. Immediate medical care is of the utmost importance when someone experiences a heart attack.
Identifying the signs and symptoms of myocardial infarctions, determining treatment options and understanding how to prevent a heart attack are valuable tools for everyone.
What Is a Heart Attack?
Your heart is the epicenter of your circulatory system. Coronary arteries supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients, allowing the heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Over time, cholesterol and other fats can build up in your arteries through a process called atherosclerosis. This plaque narrows your blood vessels and can sometimes rupture, forming a clot and blocking the artery. A heart attack occurs when the blockage prevents blood from reaching the heart and parts of the heart muscle begin dying.
The longer your heart goes without blood, the more serious the damage. The lack of blood flow destroys parts of your heart and deprives other organs of necessary nutrients. Heart attacks can cause severe complications, including heart failure and sudden cardiac arrest.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Heart attack symptoms vary widely between individuals and present differently in men and women. Symptoms can come on quickly and intensely, or they might develop gradually over days or even weeks. Here are a few of the most common warning signs of a heart attack:
Heart Attack Causes
Coronary artery disease (CAD), which is plaque buildup in the arteries, is the most common cause of heart attacks. CAD can lead to partial or complete arterial blockage, depending on the severity of the rupture. Other factors or conditions can also cause a myocardial infarction, like a coronary artery spasm or a COVID-19 infection.
The following risk factors increase your chances of a heart attack:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Treating a Heart Attack
Myocardial infarctions require immediate medical intervention. The longer you go without treatment, the more severe the damage will be. Get emergency medical help if you experience symptoms indicating a heart attack.
A few different treatment options are available during and following your heart attack. Doctors and health care providers often use medication to reduce blood clotting, relieve pain and ease heart strain. In some cases, surgeries like angioplasty and heart bypass are necessary to prevent further damage.
How to Prevent a Heart Attack
Preventive care is essential when you’re at risk of a heart attack. Even if you’ve had a previous myocardial infarction, you can reduce the risk of a subsequent attack. Eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and exercise regularly to improve your heart health. If you have an underlying condition like diabetes or another heart disease, make sure you monitor your health closely and take your medications.
This page does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.