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

A little-known factor that boosts heart attack risk

About 20% of people have high levels of lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), a fatty particle linked to premature heart disease. People who should consider getting an Lp(a) test include those with a family history of early heart disease; people with heart disease who have normal (untreated) levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides; and close relatives of people with high Lp(a). Studies of new drugs to lower Lp(a) are under way, with results expected in a few years. (Locked) More »

Understanding "blood thinners"

So-called blood thinners actually don’t "thin" blood. They are anti-clotting drugs that protect high-risk people from developing potentially dangerous blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. People who may benefit from them include those who have atrial fibrillation or a stent in a blood vessel, or who are immobile after surgery. (Locked) More »

Migraine: A connection to cardiovascular disease?

People who get migraines with aura have a slightly higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease than people who get migraines without aura or no migraines. But migraines are most common in younger women, whose baseline risk of cardiovascular problems is very low in the first place. Still, those who get migraine with aura should be sure to tell their primary care provider or gynecologist. Taking estrogen-containing birth control pills or hormone therapy may further raise stroke risk in these women. More »

Omega-3 fats and your heart

Higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids—specifically, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plants—may help lower the odds of a poor prognosis in the years following a heart attack. Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources of EPA. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are good sources of ALA, which is also found in soybean and canola oil. (Locked) More »

Treating heart attacks: Changes from Eisenhower’s era to the present day

Treatments for heart disease have changed dramatically since President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955. Highlights of the advances include techniques to restore a normal heart rhythm and to repair blocked heart arteries, the development of medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and advice about lifestyle habits. (Locked) More »

A different type of heart attack

A small percentage of heart attacks result from a tear in the inner wall of one of the heart’s arteries. Called spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD, it’s the most common reason for acute coronary syndrome in women under 50. Expanded awareness of heart disease in women and improved diagnostic tools have increased recognition of SCAD. The typical person with SCAD is a middle-aged, healthy woman with few or none of the classic risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. While the exact cause isn’t entirely clear, most people with SCAD have some sort of abnormality in the blood vessels outside the heart, including a rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia. (Locked) More »

Get FITT to better fight heart disease

People who have been diagnosed with heart disease or are at high risk should adopt a regular aerobic exercise routine to help fight many of the disease’s risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and excess weight. A formula known as FITT—for frequency, intensity, time, and type—offers a guide to putting together a routine that will keep a person motivated and provide the best heart-pumping workout possible. (Locked) More »

When you take these popular pain relievers, proceed with caution

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs known as NSAIDs pose a risk to the cardiovascular system. They include over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and prescription drugs such as celecoxib (Celebrex). NSAIDs can cause the kidneys to hold on to salt and water, which tends to raise blood pressure. They also appear to affect the inner linings of blood vessels and alter other blood substances in a manner that promotes blood clots. People who need these pain-relieving medications should take the smallest dose for the shortest possible period of time. (Locked) More »