A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when one or more regions of the heart muscle experience a severe or prolonged lack of oxygen caused by blocked blood flow to the heart muscle.
A woman can have a heart attack without crushing chest pain.
Risk Factors for Heart Attack
- A family history of heart disease (especially with onset before age 55)
- Being post-menopausal
- High blood pressure
- Unfavorable lipid profile: low levels of HDL (high-density lipoproteins), high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol, and/or high levels of triglycerides
- Cigarette smoking
- High levels of alcohol consumption
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Body mass index greater than 25
- Diet high in saturated fat
Symptoms of Heart Attack
The following are the most common symptoms of a heart attack. However, women may have a heart attack without crushing chest pain, and may instead experience more subtle symptoms, such as overall malaise, weakness and shortness of breath. Symptoms may include:
- Severe pressure, fullness, squeezing, pain and/or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
- Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
- Chest pain that increases in intensity
- Chest pain that is not relieved by rest or by taking nitroglycerin
- Sweating and/or pale, cool, clammy skin
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or fainting
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
- Rapid or irregular pulse
Emergency Treatment for Heart Attack
Although some of the symptoms of heart attack may be confused with those of indigestion, pleurisy, pneumonia or other conditions, it could be fatal to ignore them. If you have the symptoms of heart attack, call 911. The sooner treatment is started, the less damage your heart muscle will suffer.
Once physicians have confirmed that you have had a heart attack, they are likely to perform an emergency coronary catheterization to locate blockages in your coronary arteries, and coronary angioplasty to open up the obstruction to restore blood flow to your heart. Other emergency treatments, which may begin at the site or in the ambulance, include:
- Intravenous therapy with nitroglycerin to dilate blood vessels, and morphine to relieve pain.
- Continuous monitoring of the heart and vital signs.
- Therapy to deliver oxygen to the damaged heart muscle.
- Medication to decrease pain, thereby decreasing the workload of the heart and thus its demand for oxygen.
- Cardiac medication such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers to promote blood flow to the heart, improve the blood supply, prevent arrhythmias and decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
- Fibrinolytic therapy by an intravenous infusion of a medication that dissolves the blood clot, thus restoring blood flow.
- Antithrombin/antiplatelet therapy, which is used to prevent further blood clotting.
Nutrition and Prevention
Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
- Lifestyle Changes
- Healthy Diet
- Reduce Stress
- Stop Smoking
- Healthy Cholesterol Levels
- Reduce Sodium
Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011
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