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 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, especially with:
Exercise or exertionEmotional stressCold weatherA large mealPain 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 911 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)—Records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle, changes can show if there is blockage or damage.
Echocardiogram—Uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) 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—Uses radioactive material to show areas of the heart muscle where there is diminished blood flow.Electron-beam computed tomography
(EBCT)—A type of x-ray that uses a computer to make detailed pictures of the heart, coronary arteries, and surrounding structures.Coronary angiography—Uses dye and x-rays to look for narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries.
OxygenPain-relieving medicineNitrate medicinesAspirin
and other antiplatelet agents
and/or angiotensin-converting enzyme
(ACE) inhibitor medicines
Anti-anxiety medicineCholesterol-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.
Other medicines that may be given include those that block the function of platelets.
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.
Begin a safe
exercise program. Follow your doctor's advice.
If you smoke,
healthy diet. 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 medicines.
7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Antithrombotic Trialists' (ATT) Collaboration, Baigent C, Blackwell L, et al. Aspirin in the primary and secondary prevention of vascular disease: collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data from randomised trials.
Last reviewed September 2012 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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