What is a Heart Attack?

heart attack patient clutching chest

In simple terms, heart attacks are caused by restricted blood flow from the heart. Heart attacks are incredibly common in the United States. In fact, every year, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack. However, one benefit of such a common heart disease is that there has been extensive research conducted on the causes, mechanisms and effects of heart attacks. Because of modern technology, we are able to take preventative measures, take extra care of at-risk individuals, and properly inform the public. 

The Importance of the Heart

The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body. It is integral to the circulatory system which is in charge of pumping blood throughout the body as well as delivering various gases and nutrients to cells. The heart divides its functions among four separate chambers and is able to pump blood by using veins and arteries. Veins deliver oxygen-poor blood to the right side of the heart and is then sent to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and gets rid of carbon dioxide. The lungs then oxygenate the blood and pump it to the rest of the body through the arteries. Each part of the circulatory system works together to keep the body intact and healthy. 

Now that we know what the circulatory system’s main functions are and what the heart is responsible for, we can better understand what a heart attack is. Heart attacks occur when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The circulation of blood to the heart is necessary to oxygenate the blood, deliver nutrients to other cells, and remove wastes. When this imperative function is disrupted, as in the case of heart attacks, it can cause extreme damage to the body or can even be fatal. The blockages typically occur due to an excessive buildup of fat, steroid hormones like cholesterol as well as other substances. This build-up, which is known as plaque, lines the insides of the arteries that pump blood throughout the body. Plaque build-up in the arteries is called Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. CAD is also the leading cause of heart attacks. Further, there are also several less common causes, including sudden contractions or spasms.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

The symptoms of heart attacks vary greatly from person to person and some occur randomly with no warning signs. Moreover, the severity of pain and magnitude of heart attacks also covers a wide range. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the main symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back.
  • Shortness of Breath.

How can I reduce the chances of having a heart attack?

A healthy diet is necessary to maintaining good health and preventing the development of Coronary Heart Disease. A balanced diet includes decreasing the consumption of foods with saturated fats such as fatty meats, butter, cakes, etc. It also includes incorporating fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein into everyday meals. Along with eating healthy, exercise is also important to keep blood flowing and preventing a buildup of fat. Exercise does not have to be strenuous; it can include simple activities such as walking and stretching. Further, reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking will also reduce the risk of having a heart attack.

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This article 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.

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