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

Red meat, TMAO, and your heart

Researchers are finding that a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), produced when the body digests red meat, is linked to health ills such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Experts say people with high levels of TMAO in their blood may have double the risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with people who have lower levels. (Locked) More »

Chest pain that's not a heart attack

Costochondritis is caused by inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone. This uncommon condition can trigger a stabbing, aching pain that's often mistaken for a heart attack. (Locked) More »

Hands-only CPR: A lifesaving technique within your reach

Hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) appears to be just as successful as standard CPR, which uses mouth-to-mouth breathing. Learning the simpler, hands-only version seems to make people more likely to perform the potentially lifesaving technique. Doing hands-only CPR eliminates the fear of contracting a disease, one of the main reasons people say they hesitate to perform CPR. Other barriers people cite include fear of injuring a person by doing compressions incorrectly and not knowing how to perform the technique. The American Heart Association, American Red Cross, and other organizations offer classes in CPR and the use of a public-access defibrillator, another critical step in the chain of survival if someone needs CPR. (Locked) More »

Put your heart in the right place

Cardiac rehab provides supervised exercise and teaches the fundamentals of a heart-healthy lifestyle to people who have had heart surgery or another cardiac event. During the program, which usually involves three sessions per week over a three-month period, participants get an individualized treatment plan with goals for their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and weight (and smoking cessation, if needed). Cardiac rehab not only lowers the risk of dying of heart disease by about 24%, it also improves exercise ability and quality of life. (Locked) More »

Deep-vein blood clots: What you need to know

A blood clot that forms in a vein, known as venous thromboembolism (VTE), is the third most common cause of cardiovascular death. Most of these fatalities occur when a clot travels from the leg to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. VTE occurs in an estimated one in 1,000 people in the United States every year. Factors that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, such as age, smoking, and being overweight or obese, also raise the risk of VTE. Other contributing factors include recent surgery, hospitalization, injury to a vein, and decreased blood flow, usually caused by immobility. (Locked) More »

What happens if my stent stops working?

Complications with stents—the tiny wire-mesh tubes used to prop open blocked arteries—are less common than in the past. When problems occur, possible treatments include medications, re-stenting, or bypass surgery. (Locked) More »