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

High calcium score: What’s next?

 Image: © Tinpixels/Getty Images Q. I recently got a coronary artery calcium scan and the results showed that I have quite a bit of calcium in my heart arteries (my score was 900). Should I have an angiogram to confirm the results? I don't have any heart-related symptoms, but I'm worried about having a heart attack. A. That is a very high coronary artery calcium score. But the short answer to your question is no. The main reason to have an angiogram is to locate a narrowed heart artery that is causing chest pain or other symptoms. For the test, a cardiologist injects a dye that is visible on x-rays into the blood vessels of your heart, then takes a series of x-ray images. This is done in preparation for angioplasty, in which a narrowed artery is opened, or as a prelude to referral for coronary artery bypass surgery. (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 »

Is it safe for women to drink alcohol?

Women should avoid alcohol if they are pregnant or if they have a personal or family history of breast cancer, liver disease, or alcohol abuse. For other women, one drink a day is generally healthy. (Locked) More »

Rethinking low-dose aspirin

 Image: © dszc/Getty Images It costs just pennies per pill, doesn't require a prescription, and may be lifesaving for some people. But daily low-dose aspirin doesn't make sense for everyone. Now, three major studies that examined the benefits and risks of this widely used drug may alter the advice about who should take aspirin. "Aspirin remains a cornerstone of treatment after a heart attack or stroke. But the question of whether people with a low to moderate risk of heart disease should take aspirin is a really important one," says Dr. Christopher Cannon, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Tens of millions of people in the United States fall into that low-to-moderate-risk category. But until now, there weren't many large trials that included those people, he notes. (Locked) More »

Taking a multivitamin probably won’t help your heart

Multivitamins don’t reduce cardiovascular risks, according to a new study. And while many people take them to improve or maintain their health, research has not shown that they are beneficial to most people. Certain subgroups, however, may need supplements if they can’t properly absorb nutrients from the foods that they eat. (Locked) More »

An unusual type of heart attack

Sometimes, people have heart attacks that occur in the absence of a blocked heart artery. These unusual events can result from a number of causes, including a spasm or tear in one of the heart’s arteries or inflammation of the heart. (Locked) More »