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

E-cigarettes boost the risk of heart attack

Daily use of electronic cigarettes may nearly double a person’s risk of a heart attack. Using these products in addition to regular cigarettes (which is a common use pattern) may increase the risk of heart attack fivefold. More »

Certain pain relievers could harm your heart

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, have been linked to higher cardiovascular risks. A new study seems to confirm the risks of these medications and shows that one particular NSAID, diclofenac (Voltaren), may bring higher risks than other medications in this class. For most people who take these medications for short periods of time, the risks aren’t a major concern, but people who take these drugs long-term and have other heart risk factors should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor. (Locked) More »

High calcium score: What’s next?

Otherwise healthy people who have a high score on a coronary artery calcium scan do not need an angiogram to confirm the findings. Instead, they should focus on lowering their cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors. (Locked) More »

The head-heart connection: Mental health and heart disease

People with high levels of psychological distress, including symptoms of anxiety and depression, may be more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke. Mood disorders and heart disease may have shared, underlying causes that begin even before birth that are carried throughout life. A fetus exposed to its mother’s immune or inflammatory responses may experience changes that affect specific brain regions that regulate both mood and cardiac function. (Locked) More »

Heartburn vs. heart attack

Heartburn, a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, causes a painful sensation in the middle of the chest that is often mistaken for a heart attack. Drugs to treat these common problems are often taken together intentionally. The widely used heartburn drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors may help reduce gastrointestinal bleeding—a possible side effect of aspirin, which is sometimes taken to prevent heart attacks. More »

Rethinking low-dose aspirin

Because low-dose aspirin helps thwart dangerous blood clots, it remains a cornerstone for heart attack and stroke survivors. But aspirin may do more harm than good for people who’ve never experienced a heart-related event. People with diabetes appear to gain heart protection from aspirin, but the risk of bleeding offsets some of that benefit. For who don’t have diabetes—as well as anyone who is 70 years of age or older—aspirin seems to provide no heart benefit. And it increases the odds of dangerous bleeding that requires transfusions or hospitalization. As a result, some people currently taking low-dose aspirin should consider stopping it. (Locked) More »

Taking a multivitamin probably won’t help your heart

Multivitamins don’t reduce cardiovascular risks, according to a new study. And while many people take them to improve or maintain their health, research has not shown that they are beneficial to most people. Certain subgroups, however, may need supplements if they can’t properly absorb nutrients from the foods that they eat. (Locked) More »