A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is interrupted. Oxygen cannot get to the heart muscle, causing tissue damage or tissue death.
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A heart attack may be caused by:
- Thickening of the walls of the arteries feeding the heart muscle (coronary arteries)
- Accumulation of fatty plaques in the coronary arteries
- Narrowing of the coronary arteries
- Spasm of the coronary arteries
- Development of a blood clot in the coronary arteries
- Embolism that affects the coronary arteries
These factors increase your chance of developing heart attack. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
Squeezing, heavy chest pain behind breastbone, especially with:
- Exercise or exertion
- Emotional stress
- Cold weather
- A large meal
- Usually comes on quickly
- Pain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating, clammy skin
- Loss of consciousness
- Anxiety, especially feeling a sense of doom or panic without apparent reason
Unusual symptoms of heart attack (may occur more frequently in women):
- Stomach pain
- Back and shoulder pain
If you think you are having a heart attack, call for medical help right away.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests—To look for certain enzymes found in the blood within hours or days after a heart attack.
- Urine tests—To look for certain substances found in the urine within hours or days after a heart attack.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
—to look for evidence of blockage or damage.
—to examine the size, shape, function, and motion of the heart.
- Stress test
—Records the heart's electrical activity under increased physical stress, usually done days or weeks after the heart attack.
- Nuclear scanning—show areas of the heart muscle where there is diminished blood flow.
- Electron-beam computed tomography
(EBCT)—to make detailed pictures of the heart, coronary arteries, and surrounding structures.
- Coronary angiography
—Uto look for narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries.
- Pain-relieving medicine
- Nitrate medicines
Other antiplatelet agents
and/or angiotensin-converting enzyme
(ACE) inhibitor medicines
- Anti-anxiety medicine
- Cholesterol-lowering medicines
(such as statin drugs)
Within the first six hours after a heart attack, you may be given medicines to break up blood clots in the coronary arteries.
If you have severe blockages you may need surgery immediately or after recovery, such as:
recovery, you may need physical or rehabilitative therapy to help you regain your strength.
You may feel
after having a heart attack.
can help relieve
If you have a heart attack, follow your doctor's
Preventing or treating coronary artery disease may help prevent a heart attack.