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

Air pollution: An invisible threat to your heart

Exposure to microscopic particles called PM2.5 in air pollution may increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart rhythm disorders. The tiny particles pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, triggering inflammation and other cell-damaging processes. Air pollution comes mainly from coal-fired power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles. To limit exposure, people should try to avoid exercising outdoors near busy roads or industrial areas. (Locked) More »

Feel woozy? Do this first

People who’ve never experienced wooziness should call 911 if the symptom comes on suddenly or severely, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms. However, a person who has experienced wooziness before or been unwell recently should sit down, have a drink of water or juice, and rest for 10 to 15 minutes. If the feeling of wooziness persists, if other symptoms develop, or if it’s hard to get up without feeling faint, one should call 911. (Locked) More »

How does inflammation increase the risk for heart attacks?

We now understand why inflammation increases heart attack risk. As cholesterol invades the wall of the artery, the immune system treats it like it treats other invaders. Immune system cells infiltrate the artery wall, release inflammation-producing chemicals, and send signals for other cells to remove the cholesterol. Then a fibrous cap forms over the plaque. Inflammation inside the plaque can eventually eat away at that fibrous cap. If the cap ruptures, cholesterol and the inflammatory cells and chemicals suddenly spill into the artery, causing a blood clot to form and block blood flow. More »

When walking leads to leg pain

Peripheral artery disease (PAD), which occurs when fatty deposits clog arteries outside the heart, is underrecognized and potentially dangerous. The hallmark symptom is leg pain that occurs with exercise, called intermittent claudication. PAD is more common among people who are older, who smoke, and who have diabetes. The recommended treatment involves short periods of walking interspersed with rest periods when pain occurs. Walking increases blood flow in the leg’s smaller arteries and helps create new channels to move blood around the blockages; it also helps discourage new blockages. (Locked) More »

Sex differences in heart disease: A closer look

Heart attack symptoms tend to be pretty similar among both sexes. However, chest pain and sweating are slightly more common in men, while nausea and vomiting and shortness of breath tend to be more likely to occur in women. Heart attacks that show no evidence of a blockage in a major heart artery (known as myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries, or MINOCA) tend to occur more often in women, but about 40% of these unusual heart attacks occur in men. (Locked) More »

Telemedicine: A good fit for cardiovascular care?

Virtual doctor visits—when a person talks to a physician on a video call instead of during an in-person office exam—became popular early on in the coronavirus pandemic. The technology may be a good option for managing cardiovascular disease even after in-person visits become more common again. In the future, remote monitoring of health data using Wi-Fi–enabled devices that measure a person’s weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, pulse, and heart rhythm could further advance telehealth’s promise. (Locked) More »

Tofu may help your heart

Tofu may be good for the heart. A study published in March 2020 in the journal Circulation found that people who ate at least one weekly serving of tofu or another food containing isoflavones (a compound found in soybeans and other legumes) had an 18% lower risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease than people who ate these foods less than once a month. These foods appeared particularly beneficial to premenopausal women and women who had gone through menopause but weren’t using hormone replacement therapy. Experts recommend substituting these foods for less healthy protein options such as red or processed meats. (Locked) More »

The mental side of cardiac rehab

Recovery from a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery often involves cardiac rehabilitation. While it’s normal to have some anxiety and stress after a heart-related issue, dealing with these issues and treating even more significant problems such as depression can affect people’s recovery success and increase their risk of future problems. (Locked) More »