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

Building a better stent

Researchers are trying new ways to prevent stents from clogging with cells or attracting blood clots. Their goal is to develop a stent that can be used in any person to prevent a heart attack. Some new designs include stents coated with innovative drugs or two drugs, stents that expand to fit tightly against the artery wall, stents covered with mesh, and stents that dissolve after their coating is used up. (Locked) More »

Tests to evaluate risk of heart attack

Diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease. Among people with diabetes, a variety of imaging tests can be used to estimate the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. (Locked) More »

Can you die of a broken heart?

The stress of losing a loved one increases the risk of heart attack, particularly in people already at risk. The risk is 21 times higher than normal during the first 24 hours, then gradually declines. The risk of dying from a heart attack after the loss of a loved one is also 20% to 53% higher in the months following the death. In people without heart disease, grief can cause the heart to malfunction, making it a less-effective pump. This condition, known as stress cardiomyopathy, is generally reversible. (Locked) More »

Our concept of heart attack is changing

In 2012, an international task force defined six different types of heart attack. The distinctions are important because each type may be treated differently. Because some heart attacks do not cause symptoms, the presence of a protein called troponin in the blood, plus chest pain or evidence of heart attack on an electrocardiogram or imaging test, is required to make the diagnosis. More »

Sex and your heart

Research finds that 60% of women are less sexually active after a heart attack, at least in part because they’re afraid having sex will trigger another heart attack. However, the odds of sex causing a heart attack is very low—especially for women who regularly engage in physical activity. A stress test can determine whether women with heart disease or a history of heart surgery are healthy enough to resume sexual activity. Undergoing cardiac rehabilitation can help get their heart back into shape for sex. (Locked) More »

Some heart attacks go unrecognized

More than one-third of heart attacks produce no symptoms, yet these so-called silent heart attacks are as dangerous as heart attacks that do cause symptoms. (Locked) More »