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

Avoiding atherosclerosis: The killer you can't see

Following healthy lifestyle habits is the foundation for atherosclerosis risk reduction. Such habits include eating a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and controlling underlying conditions such as high blood pressure. People who are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease or who have already had a heart attack, stroke, or the diagnosis of angina or peripheral artery disease may need to take a medication called a statin to try to fend off cholesterol buildup in the arteries and shrink plaques. (Locked) More »

Past trauma may haunt your future health

People who have experienced traumatic events are at higher risk for a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease. Risk is particularly high for those who experienced multiple adverse childhood events. Therapy can help people move past trauma and improve their health. More »

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 »