Heart Attack

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction (MI). It happens when one or more parts of the heart muscle don’t get enough oxygen. That occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked.

If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off, muscle cells of the heart begin to suffer damage and start to die (infarct). Permanent) damage begins within 30 minutes of blockage. The heart muscle may then no longer work as it should.

If you think you are having a heart attack, call your emergency medical system (911) immediately.


Heart Attack

What causes a heart attack?

A blockage in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle can lead to a heart attack. A blockage is caused by a buildup of plaque. This is called atherosclerosis. Plaque is made up of deposits, cholesterol, and other substances. When a plaque breaks (ruptures), a blood clot quickly forms. The blood clot is the actual cause of the heart attack.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Each person may have slightly different symptoms of a heart attack. But these are the most common symptoms:

  • Severe pressure, fullness, squeezing, pain, or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms, or jaw
  • Chest pain that gets worse
  • Chest pain that doesn't get better with rest or by taking nitroglycerin
  • Chest pain that happens along with any of these symptoms:
    • Sweating
    • Cool, clammy skin or paleness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Dizziness or fainting
    • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
    • Fast or irregular pulse
Chest pain is the key warning sign of a heart attack. But it may be confused with other conditions. These include heartburn, pleurisy, and pneumonia. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

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