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

Deep-vein blood clots: What you need to know

A blood clot that forms in a vein, known as venous thromboembolism (VTE), is the third most common cause of cardiovascular death. Most of these fatalities occur when a clot travels from the leg to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. VTE occurs in an estimated one in 1,000 people in the United States every year. Factors that increase a person’s risk of heart disease, such as age, smoking, and being overweight or obese, also raise the risk of VTE. Other contributing factors include recent surgery, hospitalization, injury to a vein, and decreased blood flow, usually caused by immobility. (Locked) More »

What happens if my stent stops working?

Complications with stents—the tiny wire-mesh tubes used to prop open blocked arteries—are less common than in the past. When problems occur, possible treatments include medications, re-stenting, or bypass surgery. (Locked) More »

Health by the numbers

New research has found that fluctuations in four health-related parameters—weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels—may be associated with a higher risk of heart attacks, stroke, and premature death compared with more stable readings. Being more mindful about personal health numbers, and making necessary lifestyle and medical changes as necessary, can help people avoid possible health risks. (Locked) More »

Time-sensitive clues about cardiovascular risk

When a person’s behavior or environment is out of sync with their internal clock, it’s known as circadian misalignment. This phenomenon may explain why heart attack rates rise on Monday mornings and the week after daylight savings time begins. Certain habits such as late-night eating or light exposure into the wee hours can also throw the body’s natural rhythms out of whack, which may affect cardiovascular risk factors. (Locked) More »

A different kind of heart attack

There are two basic types of heart attacks—type 1 and type 2. In type 1 heart attacks, rupture of a fatty plaque leads to a blood clot that completely blocks a coronary artery. In type 2 heart attacks, the problem is severely reduced flow through long-standing narrowing of a coronary artery. While both types are serious, type 2 may be the most concerning because its warning signs are often less dramatic and many men won’t seek medical care until it’s too late. Knowing the symptoms of type 2 attacks can enable men to recognize them. (Locked) More »

A more personalized approach to treating high cholesterol

Nearly one in three American adults has high levels of LDL, the most harmful type of cholesterol. The 2018 cholesterol treatment guidelines now take a more personalized approach on the best way to manage this common problem. As in the past, the new guidelines recommend an LDL-lowering statin drug for anyone who has already had a heart attack or (in most cases) a stroke. Adults ages 40 t0 75 who don’t have heart disease but who have diabetes and an LDL of 70 or higher should take a statin; so should anyone with an extremely high LDL (190 mg/dL or higher). (Locked) More »

The danger of “silent” heart attacks

Most people don’t realize that they could have a heart attack without even knowing it. Although these are known as “silent” heart attacks, a more accurate term may be “unrecognized” heart attack: people have symptoms but do not recognize them as coming from their heart. In the long run, these unrecognized heart attacks might be just as dangerous as recognized heart attacks. (Locked) More »