A myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, occurs when the flow of blood through a coronary artery is blocked due to a blood clot. The coronary arteries are main blood vessels that supply blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the heart. Obstructed blood flow to the heart can destroy or damage the muscle of the heart.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fullness or squeezing pain in the middle of the chest for more than a few minutes
- Vomiting and nausea
- Persistent upper abdominal pain
- Pain in the shoulder, arm, back, teeth or jaw
- Increasing occurrences of chest pain
Women may experience additional symptoms, such as heartburn, pain in the abdomen, clammy skin and dizziness. They may also be unusually fatigued.
Remember, every person who has a heart attack does not have the same symptoms. Moreover, every person does not experience symptoms to the same degree. Some people do not have any symptoms.
A heart attack can occur during activity, at work, and even at rest. While some heart attacks occur suddenly, many persons experience symptoms or warning signs, hours, days or weeks prior to an attack.
If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Immediate care can prevent or limit damage to the heart.
High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and long-term exposure to second-hand smoke can put you at a higher risk for experiencing a heart attack. In addition, if you're a woman over 55 or a man over 45, you are also more likely to have a heart attack. Other risk factors include a family history of heart attacks, lack of exercise, obesity and too much stress.
The damage caused by a heart attack can cause abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), a rupture in the heart, and valve problems; all of which can be fatal. Heart failure can also occur following an attack, and may be temporary or chronic. Heart failure can cause fatigue, shortness of breath or swelling of the ankles and feet.
Treatment following a heart attack depends on the severity of your condition and the degree of damage to the heart. Your treatment plan may require medications. You may be given Aspirin to decrease blood clotting or thrombolytics to help dissolve a blood clot that is obstructing the flow of blood to your heart. Doctors may also give you drugs to prevent new blood clots from forming, or blood thinners to make your blood less "sticky," and thus less likely to form more clots. Pain relievers, such as morphine can relieve chest pain. Nitroglycerin may be administered to treat chest pain. It opens arterial blood vessels temporarily to improve blood flow to and from the heart.
In addition to medications, surgery may also be necessary. Your doctor may perform a coronary angioplasty to open blocked coronary arteries, thus improving blood flow. Along with this procedure, a stent may be inserted to keep the artery open long term to restore blood flow to the heart.
In rare circumstances, at the time of a heart attack, a coronary artery bypass surgery may be performed, During this procedure, veins or arteries are sewed in place at a region beyond the blocked coronary artery, to restore blood flow. Most likely, your doctor may recommend this surgery after your heart has had time to recover from the attack.
Promoting a healthy heart must become a way of life. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, annual medical exams, regular cholesterol and blood pressure checks, and stress management can prevent heart attacks or help you recover if you've had one. In addition, if you are a smoker, the simplest, most significant thing you can do to improve the health of your heart is to stop. Avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke and drinking alcohol in moderation can also help.
These simple lifestyle changes play an important role in preventing heart attacks.