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

Heartburn vs. heart attack

Heartburn, a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, causes a painful sensation in the middle of the chest that is often mistaken for a heart attack. Drugs to treat these common problems are often taken together intentionally. The widely used heartburn drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors may help reduce gastrointestinal bleeding—a possible side effect of aspirin, which is sometimes taken to prevent heart attacks. More »

Is it safe for women to drink alcohol?

Women should avoid alcohol if they are pregnant or if they have a personal or family history of breast cancer, liver disease, or alcohol abuse. For other women, one drink a day is generally healthy. (Locked) More »

Rethinking low-dose aspirin

Because low-dose aspirin helps thwart dangerous blood clots, it remains a cornerstone for heart attack and stroke survivors. But aspirin may do more harm than good for people who’ve never experienced a heart-related event. People with diabetes appear to gain heart protection from aspirin, but the risk of bleeding offsets some of that benefit. For who don’t have diabetes—as well as anyone who is 70 years of age or older—aspirin seems to provide no heart benefit. And it increases the odds of dangerous bleeding that requires transfusions or hospitalization. As a result, some people currently taking low-dose aspirin should consider stopping it. (Locked) More »

Taking a multivitamin probably won’t help your heart

Multivitamins don’t reduce cardiovascular risks, according to a new study. And while many people take them to improve or maintain their health, research has not shown that they are beneficial to most people. Certain subgroups, however, may need supplements if they can’t properly absorb nutrients from the foods that they eat. (Locked) More »

An unusual type of heart attack

Sometimes, people have heart attacks that occur in the absence of a blocked heart artery. These unusual events can result from a number of causes, including a spasm or tear in one of the heart’s arteries or inflammation of the heart. (Locked) More »

A possible culprit in early heart attacks

Lipoprotein(a) is a fatty particle in the blood that invades artery walls, causing atherosclerosis. Also known as Lp(a), the particles are similar to “bad” LDL cholesterol molecules but with an extra protein attached. High blood levels of Lp(a)—which is largely determined by genetics—may explain some unexpected, premature heart attacks. Widespread testing for Lp(a) is not recommended because both the prevalence and the definition of what constitutes a dangerously high level are not yet clear. In addition, there are no FDA-approved treatments proved to lower heart disease risk in people with high Lp(a) levels. More »

Blockage or no blockage, take heart attacks seriously

For years, many doctors thought that heart attacks that weren’t caused by a major blockage were less serious than those that were. New research shows, however, that people who have this type of heart attack—known as a myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries (MINOCA)—are at higher risk for future cardiovascular events, and doctors should treat the condition aggressively. (Locked) More »