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)Build up of fatty plaques in the coronary arteriesNarrowing of the coronary arteriesSpasm of the coronary arteriesDevelopment of a blood clot in the coronary arteriesEmbolism that affects the coronary arteries
Squeezing, heavy chest pain behind breastbone, especially with:
Exercise or exertionEmotional stressCold weatherA large mealUsually comes on quicklyPain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jawShortness of breathSweating, clammy skinNauseaWeaknessLoss of consciousnessAnxiety
, especially feeling a sense of doom or panic without apparent reason
Unusual symptoms of heart attack—may occur more frequently in women: Stomach painBack and shoulder painConfusionFainting
If you think you are having a heart attack, call for emergency medical services right away.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with: Blood tests—To look for certain enzymes found in the blood within hours or days after a heart attackUrine tests—To look for certain substances found in the urine within hours or days after a heart attack
Your heart function may be tested. This can be done with: Electrocardiogram (EKG)
—to look for evidence of blockage or damageEchocardiogram
—to examine the size, shape, function, and motion of the heartStress test
—Records the heart's electrical activity under increased physical stress, usually done days or weeks after the heart attack
Images may be taken. This can be done with: Nuclear scanning—show areas of the heart muscle where there is diminished blood flowElectron-beam computed tomography
(EBCT)—to make detailed pictures of the heart, coronary arteries, and surrounding structuresCoronary angiography
—To look for narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries
AspirinOxygenPain-relieving medicationNitrate medicationsOther antiplatelet agentsBeta-blockers
and/or angiotensin-converting enzyme
(ACE) inhibitor medications
Anti-anxiety medicationCholesterol-lowering medications
such as statin drugs
Within the first six hours after a heart attack, you may be given medications to break up blood clots in the coronary arteries.
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
Preventing or treating coronary artery disease may help prevent a heart attack.
Begin a safe
. Follow your doctor's advice.
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to
. Your diet should be low in saturated fat and rich in
fruits, and vegetables
long-term conditions, like
high blood pressure
Ask your doctor about taking a small, daily dose of
Although most people are able to tolerate such a low dose of aspirin, even this small amount can rarely lead to serious bleeding, particularly from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.Aspirin may not work as well when combined with other pain medications.
About heart attacks. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/AboutHeartAttacks/About-Heart-Attacks_UCM_002038_Article.jsp. Updated September 2, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
What is a heart attack? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/. Updated December 13, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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