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

Blood thinners after a stent: How long?

After receiving a stent, people normally take aspirin and another anti-clotting drug for up to a year afterward and sometimes longer. Doctors adjust the timeline depending on an individual’s situation. (Locked) More »

Cancer survivors: A higher risk of heart problems?

Cancer survivors should be aware that cancer and its treatments—including newer immune-based therapies—can compromise cardiovascular health. Risk calculators to estimate the 10-year odds of having a heart attack or stroke may underestimate risk in people who’ve received treatment for cancer. Cancer survivors should stay vigilant for any new heart-related symptoms during and after treatment. The most common include shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, and a rapid, irregular heartbeat. (Locked) More »

Fight chronic inflammation and cholesterol to protect your heart

High cholesterol and chronic inflammation together raise the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and related problems. Several approaches can fight both at the same time. One is eating a heart-healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean proteins (fish and poultry), low-fat dairy foods, and olive oil. Another is controlling weight, since fat tissue triggers chronic inflammation. Other approaches include increasing physical activity and addressing sleep and stress issues. (Locked) More »

Suspected heart attack? Don’t fear the emergency room due to COVID-19

People with heart attack symptoms have avoided emergency rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. But waiting too long for diagnosis and treatment can be dangerous. Two classic heart attack symptoms, chest pain and breathlessness, are also common symptoms of COVID-19. People who show up with those symptoms will be tested for COVID and asked to isolate until testing negative. But their initial workup for a possible heart attack will otherwise be essentially the same as in the past. (Locked) More »

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 »