Heart Attack

To do its job—pump blood to every part of the body—the heart needs its own supply of oxygen-rich blood. That pipeline is provided by the coronary arteries. No wider than strands of spaghetti, these arteries deliver blood to hard-working heart muscle cells. A heart attack occurs when blood flow through a coronary artery is suddenly blocked. A blood clot can block flow; so can a sudden spasm of the artery.

Each coronary artery supplies blood to a specific part of the heart. A blockage damages that part of the heart. Depending on the location and amount of heart muscle affected, a blockage can seriously interfere with the heart's ability to pump blood. Since some of the coronary arteries supply areas of the heart that regulate heartbeat, blockages there can cause potentially deadly abnormal heartbeats.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, usually described as crushing, squeezing, pressing, heavy, stabbing, or burning. The pain or feeling tends to be focused either in the center of the chest or just below the center of the rib cage, but it can spread to the arms, abdomen, neck, lower jaw or neck. Other symptoms can include sudden weakness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, breathlessness, or lightheadedness.

If you think that you, or someone you are with, is having a heart attack, call 911 right away. The sooner you call, the sooner treatment can begin — "time is muscle," as emergency room doctors say. The most effective treatments are artery-opening angioplasty with stent placement or an infusion of a clot-busting drug.

Heart Attack Articles

Do premature heart attacks run in your family?

About 12% of people ages 20 and older have a parent or sibling who had a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by narrowed coronary arteries) before the age of 50. Over all, these people are roughly twice as likely to have a heart attack than people without that family history. They should be extra vigilant about monitoring and managing their blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Lifestyle habits such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and maintaining a healthy weight may be sufficient, but some people need to take medications. (Locked) More »

When heart attacks go unrecognized

Nearly half of all heart attacks are “silent,” meaning the person doesn’t realize it at the time. One reason may be a higher-than-average pain tolerance. People with diabetes might be less sensitive to pain because the disease can deaden nerves. However, failure to recognize atypical heart attack symptoms is a more likely explanation. Nonclassic symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, nausea or vomiting, and unexplained fatigue. (Locked) More »

What you may not know about your heart

Although cardiovascular disease is diagnosed later in women than men, it can begin to develop in early adulthood. The disease is more likely to affect the heart’s network of microscopic vessels and to have more subtle symptoms in women. (Locked) More »

The danger of “silent” heart attacks

Silent heart attacks, known as silent myocardial infarctions (SMIs), account for 45% of heart attacks and strike men more than women. They are “silent” because they can occur without the classic intense heart attack symptoms. Knowing the warning signs can ensure men seek medical attention and treatment and help avoid another, larger heart attack. (Locked) More »

Working out while angry? Just don’t do it

Anger or emotional upset may double the risk of having a heart attack. Heavy physical exertion appears to have the same effect. And people who do intense exercise while they’re upset or mad may face three times the risk of heart attack.  More »