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 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 »

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 »

Cardiac rehab is often the best medication for recovery

Taking part in a multiweek program of structured exercise paired with lifestyle and nutrition education is a well-documented treatment step for improving quality of life and maybe survival after a heart event. However, all too frequently, people don’t enter a program because of the lack of a doctor’s referral or other barriers to participation. (Locked) More »

Low-dose aspirin for people with heart disease

In the United States, about seven in 10 adults with heart disease follow national guidelines that recommend taking a low-dose aspirin to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. A low-dose aspirin tablet is 81 milligrams. (Locked) More »

Don't worry about sudden cardiac arrest during exercise

Exercise-related heart deaths are rare, accounting for just 5% of cases of sudden cardiac arrest. The condition, in which the heart suddenly stops working, can occur in people with or without known heart disease. One possible cause is an electrical problem with the heart, which can be triggered by a heart attack. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise is the best way to prevent sudden cardiac arrest. (Locked) More »