What Is a Heart Attack?

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What is a heart attack? People suffer from heart attacks when blood flow in their coronary arteries gets blocked by one or more blood clots. Medically, a heart attack is referred to as a myocardial infarction. Some signs of a heart attack resemble those of a minor health issue like indigestion, as a result of which often people delay visiting the doctor for a checkup, eventually making their condition more serious. Treatment options for a heart attack have increased significantly in the past few decades. However, to ensure that you are treated effectively with those potent treatment options, you must identify the symptoms of a heart attack promptly.

heart attack

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

What happens during a heart attack? The common symptoms of a heart attack include the following:

  • Squeezing pain accompanied by a feeling of pressure on the center of the chest; this pain generally lasts for several minutes.
  • A pain spreading beyond the chest to body parts like the back, arm or shoulder; there are also several instances where heart attack patients have experienced pain in their jaw and teeth.
  • Persistent upper abdominal pain.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Fainting.
  • Vomiting and nausea.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Unexplained fatigue.

The symptoms of heart attack vary widely from one individual to the other. The intensity of these symptoms is also not same in every patient experiencing a heart attack. Moreover, some people can even get heart attacks without any symptom.

Often, people confused a heart attack with cardiac arrest, a condition that causes the heart to stop suddenly. A person might experience a cardiac arrest as a result of electrical disturbances resulting in disruption of the heart’s pumping action. Most the cases of cardiac arrest are caused by a heart attack; however, it is not the sole factor leading to a cardiac arrest.

Causes of a Heart Attack

For knowing what a heart attack is you must get familiar with the causes of the condition. Heart attacks occur as a result of blocking of one or more arteries responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to the heart. These arteries are medically termed as coronary arteries. These arteries tend to get narrow over time due to cholesterol buildups, which are collectively called plaques. When a person has plaques in his/her arteries, the condition is referred to as atherosclerosis. A heart attack occurs when one or more of these plaques get ruptured resulting in formation of blood clots on the ruptured region of the arteries. When atherosclerosis results in narrowing of the coronary arteries of a person, he or she is said to be suffering from coronary artery disease. Medical experts suggest that most cases of heart attacks have coronary artery disease as its underlying cause.

On rare occasions, one might have a heart attack as a result of shutting down of blood flow due to coronary artery spasms in certain parts of the cardiac muscle. Such deadly spasms are usually triggered by drugs like cocaine. The other rare cause of a heart attack is a condition called coronary artery dissection (tearing of the artery of the heart). A heart stroke can also be caused by a heart disease called coronary embolism, a condition marked by traveling of tumors or blood clots into the heart from other body parts and blocking the coronary artery.

Risk Factors of Heart Attack

Knowing the risk factors of heart attack is also important for understanding what a heart attack is. Most heart attacks are caused by atherosclerosis. There are some factors that contribute to the occurrence of atherosclerosis; those factors are designated as the risk factors of heart attack. Improving or eliminating these risk factors can reduce a person’s chance of getting heart attacks significantly.

Age – Men above the age of 45 years and women above the age of 55 years are at higher risk of getting heart attacks compared to men and women who are younger.

Smoking – Those who smoke or get exposed to secondhand smoke frequently harm the inner walls of their arteries, which also include the coronary artery. This results in cholesterol buildup in the arteries slowing down the flow of blood. Smoking also triggers the formation of blood clots, which can eventually cause heart attacks.

Hypertension – Hypertension or high blood pressure is one of the strongest risk factors of heart attack. People suffering from hypertension experience gradual damage of their arteries, which results in acceleration of atherosclerosis.

Elevated blood cholesterol levels – Cholesterol is the main substance resulting in narrowing of all the arteries, including the one responsible for supplying blood to the heart. The type of cholesterol that causes atherosclerosis by narrowing the cardiac arteries is known as low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol (commonly referred to as bad cholesterol). Increased level of LDL cholesterol increases one’s risk of having a heart attack. Consuming a diet high in saturated fat and trans fat is known for increasing LDL cholesterol levels. Doctors also advise keeping the triglycerides levels in blood under control for reducing the chances of having a heart attack.

History of heart attack in the family – A person having close family members like grandparents, parents or siblings experiencing heart attacks is at higher risk of suffering from a heart attack compared to individuals without any family history of heart attack.

Sedentary lifestyle – A sedentary lifestyle contributes significantly to health problems like increased blood cholesterol levels, obesity etc. Performing aerobic exercises regularly helps in enhancing cardiovascular fitness, which in turn reduces one’s risk of getting a heart attack. Exercise is also known to be beneficial for fighting hypertension effectively.

Now, you understand a little more about what a heart attack is. Next, you must know about the things you should do if any person around you suffers from a heart attack. The first thing you should do in such a situation is call the local emergency number. As you wait for the emergency service to arrive, give the patient cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if you know the right technique. If not, then look for people around you who are trained to give CPR. This should help in preventing worsening of the patient’s condition.

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