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

ER evaluation methods compared

Contrast-enhanced computed coronary tomographic angiography (CCTA), a noninvasive technology, accurately diagnosed or ruled out heart attack much faster than standard evaluation methods. (Locked) More »

Women: Cardiac rehab key to recovery

After a heart attack, bypass surgery, or some cases of artery-opening angioplasty, cardiac rehabilitation helps people feel better and regain their stamina, and helps protect them from future cardiovascular trouble. Yet far fewer women than men take advantage of the program, even though research shows that women may benefit more from the program. Reasons for nonparticipation include failure to understand its value, transportation issues, limited financial resources, reluctance to spend time away from a spouse or children, advanced age, frailty, and other health problems that make movement slow and painful. Some physicians have their own biases and do not refer women to cardiac rehab. (Locked) More »

Heart attack accelerates plaque

A heart attack or stroke triggers an immune response that boosts inflammation and speeds the development of atherosclerosis in artery walls. This may explain why heart attack or stroke victims are at risk for repeat events. (Locked) More »

Heart problems from Z-Pak

The antibiotic azithromycin sometimes can trigger abnormal heart rhythms. Though uncommon, it is more likely to happen to people with heart failure, diabetes, or a previous heart attack. (Locked) More »

Resuming sex after a heart attack

New evidence-based recommendations from the American Heart Association answers questions about resuming sexual activity after a heart attack that many people (and their doctors) are too embarrassed to bring up. (Locked) More »