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

Reminder: Don't skip blood pressure medication

Millions of older adults aren’t taking their blood pressure drugs as directed. Ways to combat adherence problems include asking a doctor for less expensive drugs, understanding what a medication is for, and reporting side effects.  More »

Thinking about sex after a heart attack

After a heart attack, most people want to get back to their everyday life as quickly as possible. While driving, exercising, and returning to work are routinely discussed in the doctor’s office, the struggle many heart attack survivors encounter when trying to resume their sex lives is rarely mentioned. However, the people who do have this conversation are more often able to return to sexual activity than those who don’t. (Locked) More »

Avoiding winter heart attacks

The colder months pose many risks that can lead to heart attack. These include overexertion from shoveling snow, sudden cold exposure from not being dressed properly outside, influenza, and not getting prescriptions filled due to bad weather. Ideas for reducing these risks include having someone else shovel the snow, dressing warmly before heading out the door, getting a flu shot, and having a supply of medication large enough to keep from running out if there’s rough weather.  (Locked) More »

Stroke after a heart attack: What’s the risk?

In the first year after a heart attack, survivors face an elevated risk of both types of stroke: those caused by a clot blocking a brain artery (ischemic) and those that occur when a blood vessel leaks or ruptures (hemorrhagic). But in the following years, only the risk of ischemic stroke remains higher than average. Heart attacks and ischemic strokes have nearly identical risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol levels, lack of exercise, obesity, and cigarette smoking.  (Locked) More »

Daily aspirin for disease prevention: When do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Aspirin is known as a powerful painkiller and fever reducer. In addition, a daily low-dose aspirin (81 mg) dramatically reduces the risk of a second heart attack or certain types of stroke. Research also shows that aspirin might help fight colorectal cancer and possibly inhibit other cancers as well. However, aspirin can cause bleeding that can be dangerous for some people. New guidelines help doctors determine who is a good candidate for daily aspirin therapy.   More »

Understanding silent heart attacks

Nearly half of all heart attacks are silent, meaning they are not associated with any reported symptoms. Silent heart attacks, which can be detected on electrocardiograms, should prompt people to follow the same prevention steps as with a more typical heart attack. (Locked) More »

Why you should always have aspirin on hand

An 81-milligram aspirin is recommended daily for people ages 50 through 69 who have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. It might also reduce colon cancer risk. A 325-milligram aspirin tablet can mitigate the effects of heart attack or stroke. (Locked) More »

When chest pain strikes: What to expect at the emergency room

If a person calls 911 with a suspected heart attack, the first test is an electrocardiogram (ECG), sometimes done in the ambulance. If that test reveals a heart attack, treatment begins as soon as possible. If not, the following step is an evaluation by a doctor, who asks questions about the person’s medical history and symptoms, often followed by a blood test to look for signs of heart muscle damage. Other possible tests include a chest x-ray or an exercise stress test.  More »

While waiting for your flight, learn how to save a life

Six major airport hubs in the United States have installed training kiosks that teach people how to perform hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in just five minutes. The training features a “how-to” video plus a practice session on a rubber torso.  More »