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

Advice about taking aspirin and statins after age 75

Low-dose aspirin and statins are mainstays for preventing heart disease. But for people ages 75 and older, there is less information about the safety and efficacy of these drugs than there is for younger people. According to estimates, nearly half of people ages 70 and older without heart disease take daily aspirin. But as people age, they may be more prone to bleeding, a potentially dangerous side effect of aspirin. Statins are associated with fewer and less serious complications than aspirin, yet people tend to worry more about statin side effects, especially muscle aches. For avoiding heart attacks, taking a statin is probably a safer and more effective approach than taking aspirin. But older people should consult with a doctor about whether to start, stay on, or stop either of these medications. (Locked) More »

Who needs aspirin?

Aspirin is prescribed to help protect people with cardiovascular disease against heart attacks and strokes. Yet, because aspirin is so readily available and familiar, many people who don’t need it take it on their own. This can expose them to potentially dangerous side effects, like severe bleeding, and can do more harm than good. (Locked) More »

A major change for daily aspirin therapy

In March 2019, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommended against the routine use of low-dose (81-mg) aspirin in people older than 70 who do not have existing heart disease and haven’t had a stroke, or in people of any age who have an increased risk for bleeding (from a peptic ulcer, for example, with sores on the stomach lining that can bleed). The recommendations were based on three large studies. (Locked) More »

Were the old aspirin studies wrong?

Over the past 50 years, changes in lifestyle and new treatments have been lowering rates of heart disease. That’s led to new evidence and advice about aspirin therapy. The new advice suggests that people between ages 40 and 70 with no known heart disease may not need aspirin. Those who have a high risk for heart disease who don’t have special risks for bleeding should talk to their doctor about taking aspirin. People who do have heart disease should take low-dose aspirin unless their doctor recommends against it. (Locked) More »

Winter weather warning

Winter weather, especially when it’s windy or snowy, may pose an extra challenge for people with heart disease. Low temperatures constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the heart. Shoveling snow, which can be more strenuous than running on a treadmill, increases the risk of heart attack. People who have or are at risk of heart disease should take precautions in cold weather, such as wearing a hat and gloves and dressing in layers to help maintain a steady body temperature before going outdoors. (Locked) More »

Don't be afraid of statins

While statin therapy helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, many people may still resist them because they fear side effects and do not understand how the drugs work. Yet, for many people, statins are the best way to protect against heart attack and stroke, and may provide additional benefits like reducing the risk of blood clots and protecting against Alzheimer’s. (Locked) More »

Protect your heart, preserve your mind?

People who have a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart) may face a faster drop in thinking skills than people who don’t experience those heart-related problems. The underlying cause of this long-observed connection between the heart and brain is not exactly clear. But high blood pressure and other factors that damage arteries to the heart may also harm vessels in the brain. Regular exercise, along with controlling other risk factors for heart disease—especially high blood pressure—may help prevent cognitive decline. (Locked) More »

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 »