A heart attack, sometimes called a myocardial infarction, happens when blood flow cannot reach the heart or part of the heart. Like any organ or tissue in the body, the heart cannot function without blood to furnish oxygen and nutrients.
Most heart attacks are caused by a blockage in an artery leading to the heart. Atherosclerosis is to blame - a build up of fatty material, called plaque, in the artery that causes the artery to become narrow. If the area of buildup breaks open, blood clots can form around the plaque.
A heart attack requires immediate medical help. Fortunately, treatments are available to help you survive a heart attack. Quick attention is important for increasing your chances of survival.
Heart procedures such as the EKG and echocardiogram, as well as blood tests, can confirm that a heart attack occurred. Treatment of the heart attack then begins.
Treatment may include CPR to maintain blood flow. You may also receive treatment with a defibrillator to restore normal rhythm if your heart undergoes ventricular fibrillation. Medications are routinely given after a heart attack to break apart blood clots and prevent additional clots from forming. Medications to help your heartbeat, help your blood to flow more easily, and to help ease your pain are also common.
Additional procedures to improve blood flow after a heart attack include angioplasty and bypass surgery.
Making Lifestyle Changes After a Heart Attack
After having a heart attack, it's important to adopt a lifestyle that helps prevent future heart attacks and atherosclerotic buildup. A heart healthy diet that replaces saturated fat and trans fats with unsaturated fats and that is high in fiber is a great start. A daily exercise plan and maintaining a healthy weight are also keys to a healthy heart.
The symptoms and warning signs of a heart attack are chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness. Severe chest pain is not always present in someone having a heart attack. Women, more than men, may experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.