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

Heart attack survivors can have sex without fear

Sex does not appear to trigger a heart attack or increase your risk for a second one after you have recovered. A new study found that more than 78% of those who had a heart attack said their last sexual activity occurred more than 24 hours beforehand. More »

Heart attack despite low cholesterol?

About half of all heart attacks occur in people with "normal" cholesterol levels. Other conditions such as smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity could raise the risk of a heart attack. (Locked) More »

How old is your heart?

An online “heart age” calculator can help people understand their risk of heart attack and stroke. The estimate is based on a person’s blood pressure reading, smoking history, body mass index, and whether they have diabetes. About 75% of heart attacks are due to risk factors that increase heart age. In the United States, 50% of men and 40% of women have a heart age that’s five or more years greater than their actual age. (Locked) More »

A different kind of heart attack

Classic heart attack symptoms—severe chest pressure, chest heaviness, or chest pain—most often arise from a blockage in a coronary artery that prevents blood from reaching the heart muscle. But a lesser-known condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy can produce the same sudden heart symptoms even when the coronary arteries are clear. Although the condition is often reversible, it can be dangerous. (Locked) More »

Sex before and after a heart attack

Sex rarely triggers heart attacks, and sex after a heart attack is safe for most people. But some drugs to treat heart disease can cause erection problems, and others may have dangerous interactions with drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction. More »