What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked. Blockage can occur from blood clots in the arteries, arterial spasm, or a severe disturbance to the heart rhythm. This blockage can produce injury or death of heart muscle tissue. Men are affected more than women, and it occurs more often after 40 years of age. An individual’s risk of heart attack increases with smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, diabetes, obesity, stress, a family history of coronary artery disease, high LDL (bad cholesterol) or low HDL (good cholesterol).  If you have symptoms of a heart attack, CALL 911 or seek emergency medical treatment!  Delaying or avoiding treatment increases your risk of dying!

Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, especially a squeezing or crushing sensation
  • Radiation of pain to arms, neck, jaw, upper back, or stomach area
  • A feeling of anxiousness or doom
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sweating (often cold)

What your doctor can do:

  • Hospitalize you immediately
  • Order medicine to dissolve clot. This may be very effective, but only if used in the first few hours after a heart attack occurs
  • Order other medication (for controlling pain and heart rhythm), oxygen, electrical heart pacing, and resuscitation measures if necessary
  • Refer you for surgical procedures (angioplasty, pacemaker insertion, or bypass) if required.

What you can do:

During recovery and to help prevent another heart attack:

  • Discuss resuming normal activities with your doctor.
  • Stop smoking and exercise as directed.
  • Work with your doctor and health care team to identify and change other harmful behaviors that could contribute to another heart attack, such as poor nutrition or poor control over blood pressure or diabetes.

What you can expect:

  • Recovering after a heart attack depends on several factors, but generally takes 4-8 weeks.
  • Your doctor will probably recommend some form of cardiac rehabilitation.

Contact your doctor during recovery if:

  • You have chest pain that your medication does not relieve.
  • You have difficulty breathing even without much exertion.
  • You experience lightheadedness or fainting.
  • You have heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat.