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

Can a smart watch diagnose a heart attack?

ECG readings taken with a smart watch may be just as accurate as a traditional ECG done in a medical setting. But the notion of using a smart watch to diagnose a heart attack is still years away. One main reason: obtaining an ECG with a smart watch requires carefully holding the back of the watch on the wrist and at eight specific locations on the chest and abdomen. Quality control and regulatory issues are other important hurdles that need to be addressed. But experts believe improved smart watches with enhanced diagnostic ability may be on the market within a decade. More »

Fish oil drug helps shrink plaque in heart arteries

A drug made from a highly purified form of EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish) appears to help reduce plaque in the heart’s arteries. This may explain why the drug, icosapent ethyl (Vascepa), helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. More »

Our evolving understanding of the problem with plaque

New imaging techniques that use light or sound waves to create images of the inside of coronary arteries have helped researchers better understand the fat-laden plaque that builds up inside artery walls (atherosclerosis). Most heart attacks happen when small, inflamed areas of fatty plaque rupture suddenly, causing a clot that blocks blood flow. This may explain why treating large, obstructive plaques with stents or bypass surgery does not seem to prevent heart attacks or help people live longer. (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 »

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. 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 »