A heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) is a serious medical emergency in which the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.
Lack of blood to the heart can seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of a heart attack
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
• chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness, or tightness in the chest
• pain in other parts of the body – you feel that the pain spreads from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm, but can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back, and stomach
• feeling light-headed or dizzy
• shortness of breath
• feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
• an overwhelming feeling of fear (such as a panic attack)
• coughing or wheezing
Chest pain is usually severe, but some people may experience only mild pain similar to indigestion. While the most common symptom in both men and women is chest pain, women are more likely to have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling sick or sick, and back or jaw pain.
While waiting for an ambulance, chewing and then swallowing an aspirin tablet (preferably 300 mg) can help if the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin.
Aspirin helps thin the blood and improves blood flow to the heart. In the hospital, treatment for a heart attack depends on how bad it is.
The 2 main treatments are:
• taking medicines to dissolve blood clots
• surgery to help restore blood to the heart
Causes of heart attack
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attack.
CHD is a condition in which the large blood vessels that supply the heart are blocked by cholesterol deposits known as plaques.
Before a heart attack, one of the plates breaks (ruptures), causing a blood clot at the site of the rupture.
A clot can block the blood supply to the heart and cause a heart attack. Heart attack recovery
The time it takes to recover from a heart attack depends on the extent of damage to your heart muscle.
Most people can return to work after a heart attack. Some people are healthy enough to return to work after 2 weeks. Some people may take several months to recover. How soon you can return to work depends on your health, the condition of your heart, and the type of work you do.
The recovery process aims to:
• reduce your risk of another heart attack through a combination of lifestyle changes (such as eating a healthy diet), and medicines (such as statins), which help to lower blood cholesterol levels
• gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities (cardiac rehabilitation)
Find out more about recovering from a heart attack
Complications of a heart attack
Complications of a heart attack can be serious and possibly life-threatening.
• arrhythmias – these are abnormal heartbeats. 1 type is where the heart begins beating faster and faster, then stops beating (cardiac arrest)
• cardiogenic shock – where the heart’s muscles are severely damaged and can no longer contract properly to supply enough blood to maintain many body functions
• heart rupture – where the heart’s muscles, walls, or valves split apart (rupture)
These complications can happen quickly after a heart attack and are a leading cause of death.
Many people die suddenly from a complication of a heart attack before reaching the hospital or within the 1st month after a heart attack.
The outlook often depends on:
• age – serious complications are more likely as you get older
• the severity of the heart attack – how much of the heart’s muscle has been damaged during the attack
• how long it took before a person received treatment – treatment for a heart attack should begin as soon as possible
Find out more about complications of a heart attack
Preventing a heart attack
There are 5 main steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a heart attack (or having another heart attack):
• smokers should quit smoking
• lose weight if you’re overweight or obese
• do regular exercise – adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week unless advised otherwise by the doctor in charge of your care
• eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet, including wholegrains and at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
• moderate your alcohol consumption
Catch the signs early
Don’t wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and severe. But most start slowly, with little pain or discomfort.
• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then come back. It may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
• Discomfort in other parts of the upper body. Symptoms may include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
• Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
• Other characters. Other possible symptoms include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or dizziness.
Download Common Heart Attack Warning Signs Infographic (JPEG) | (PDF)
Symptoms are different for men and women
Like men, the most common symptoms of a heart attack in women are chest pain (angina) or discomfort. However, women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, especially shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Read about the warning signs of a heart attack in women.
Learn the symptoms of a heart attack and remember: even if you’re not sure it’s a heart attack, get it checked out. Minutes matter. Quick action can save lives—maybe even your own.
The emergency medical services (EMS) team can begin treatment when they arrive—up to an hour earlier than if someone were driving to the hospital. EMS personnel are also trained to resuscitate a person whose heart has stopped. Chest pain patients who arrive by ambulance usually also receive faster hospital treatment.
Women or men – who has a higher risk of a heart attack?
A woman’s heart may look like a man’s heart, but there are many differences.
For example, a woman’s heart is usually smaller, as are some of its inner chambers. The walls that divide some of these rooms are thinner. And while a woman’s heart pumps faster than a man’s, it pushes out about 10% less blood with each contraction.
When a woman is stressed, her heart rate increases and the heart pumps more blood. When a person is stressed, the arteries in their heart are damaged, which increases their blood pressure.
Why are these differences important? This is important because gender plays a role in the symptoms, treatment, and outcomes of coronary artery disease (CAD).