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

Conquer your fear of dietary fat

For decades, high intake of fat was thought to cause weight gain, heart disease, and maybe even cancer. The solution? Go low-fat, which often meant consuming more carbs and more sugar. But nutritionists now suggest people actually need adequate amounts of "good" unsaturated fat, and less "bad" saturated fat, for optimal health. Following popular heart-healthy diets, like the Mediterranean and MIND diets, and making simple dietary changes can help people get adequate amounts of good fats. (Locked) More »

Depression and heart disease: A double-edged sword?

Depression and cardiovascular disease are common conditions that often occur together. People with depression can find it hard to muster the energy to stick to healthy habits, including choosing and preparing healthy foods and taking prescribed medications on schedule. Three lifestyle changes can improve both illnesses: doing regular exercise, getting plenty of high-quality sleep, and practicing mindfulness meditation. Antidepressants such as sertraline (Zoloft) and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors help ease depression in people with cardiovascular disease. So can cognitive behavioral therapy, which is designed to help people recognize and change ingrained, negative thoughts or behaviors. (Locked) More »

How much will fried foods harm your heart?

A study published online Jan. 18, 2021, by the journal Heart found that people who ate the most fried foods each week were 28% more likely to have heart problems, compared with people who ate the least. More »

The story on heart stents

Close to a million stents to open blocked or narrowed coronary arteries are implanted each year, and as people age the odds of being added to the list increases. A stent can save a person’s life during a heart attack, but also may be needed if someone has significant plaque blockage. Knowing what to do before and after the procedure can help with recovery and support future heart health. (Locked) More »

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 »

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 »