Heart Attack: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body. On average the heartbeats around 100,000 times a day during 24hrs to supply oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Blood pumped by the heart also shuttles waste products such as carbon dioxide to the lungs so it can be eliminated from the body. Proper heart function is essential to support and sustain life. Read more about Heart Attack: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention.

Did you know, heart disease is the leading killer and affects an estimated 14 million adults?

A heart attack happens when something blocks the blood flow to your heart so it can’t get the oxygen it needs.

What are the Lifestyle Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

Certain lifestyle factors and choices that increase the risk of heart disease include:

  • Eating a diet high in fat
  • Being physically inactive
  • Experiencing emotional distress or being “stressed out”

Some heart disease risk factors, such as genetics, cannot be controlled. However, many other heart disease risk factors can be modified. Eating heart-healthy foods can reduce the risk of heart disease. Heart-healthy foods include fruits, and vegetables. Cholesterol-lowering foods such as beans, soy, chickpeas, garlic, avocados, and olive oil are beneficial. Boost levels of HDL “good” cholesterol by eating nuts. Walnuts and almonds are good choices, but limit your serving to a small handful as nuts are high in calories. Avoid sugary foods as they promote heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Symptoms of a Heart Disease include:

Many people with heart disease notice symptoms during physical exertion or exercise. The heart needs more oxygen and nutrients during physical exertion, so people with heart disease may notice symptoms when they are active. Cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain; women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.

Certain groups of people with heart disease experience atypical symptoms. Many people with diabetes and elderly individuals do not experience pain as a symptom of heart disease. People in those groups are more likely to report fatigue or a general feeling of malaise as a symptom of heart disease.

What is a Heart Attack:

A heart is a muscle, and it needs a good blood supply to keep it healthy. As we get older, the smooth inner walls of the arteries that supply the blood to the heart can become damaged and narrow due to the buildup of fatty materials, called plaque. A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart. When an area of plaque breaks, blood cells and other parts of the blood stick to the damaged area and form blood clots. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot completely blocks the flow of blood and seriously reduces blood flow to the heart muscle. This also results in patients experiencing chest pain. As a result, some of the heart muscle starts to die. The longer the blockage is left untreated, the more the heart muscle is damaged. If the blood flow is not restored quickly, the damage to the heart muscle is permanent.

A heart attack is sometimes called a myocardial infarction, acute myocardial infarction, coronary occlusion or coronary thrombosis.

Types of Heart Attack

Heart attacks can be classified by a measurement from an ECG known as the ST segment. This corresponds to the area of damage inflicted on the heart.

Acute Coronary Syndrome

A heart attack is a form of acute coronary syndrome (ACS), where there is a significant blockage in the coronary arteries.

The 3 main types of ACS include:

  • ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)
  • Non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI)
  • Unstable angina

ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI)

A STEMI is the most serious type of heart attack where there is a long interruption to the blood supply. This is caused by a total blockage of the coronary artery, which can cause extensive damage to a large area of the heart.

Non-ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction (NSTEMI)

An NSTEMI can be less serious than a STEMI because the supply of blood to the heart may be only partially, rather than completely, blocked. As a result, a smaller section of the heart may be damaged. Without treatment, it can progress to serious heart damage or STEMI.

Unstable Angina

Unstable angina is the least serious type of ACS. However, like NSTEMI, it is still a medical emergency as it can also progress to serious heart damage or STEMI. In unstable angina, the blood supply to the heart is still seriously restricted, but there is no permanent damage, so the heart muscle is preserved.

Causes of a Heart Attack

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. CHD is a condition in which the major blood vessels that supply the heart get clogged with deposits of cholesterol, known as plaques. Before a heart attack, 1 of the plaques bursts, causing a blood clot to develop at the site of the rupture. The clot may block the supply of blood to the heart, triggering a heart attack.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack include:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, tightness, squeezing, or pain in your chest or arm or below your breastbone
  • The discomfort that goes into your back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Fullness, indigestion, or a choking feeling
  • Sweating, upset stomach, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Severe weakness, anxiety, fatigue, or shortness of breath
  • Fast or uneven heartbeat

Diagnosis of a Heart Attack

If you are rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, your health care team will do some tests to find out if you are having a heart attack. They may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Coronary angiogram.

When to See a Doctor

The quicker someone is treated when having a heart attack, the greater the chances of success. These days, most heart attacks can be dealt with effectively.

However, it is crucial to remember that a person’s survival depends largely on how quickly they reach the hospital. If a person has a history of heart attacks, they should speak to a doctor about treatment plans.

Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting

While waiting for an ambulance, it may help to chew and then swallow a tablet of aspirin, as long as the person having a heart attack is not allergic to aspirin. Aspirin helps to thin the blood and improves blood flow to the heart. Sometimes, a person who is having a heart attack will stop breathing. In this case, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, should be started immediately.

This process involves:

  • Manual chest compressions
  • A defibrillator
  • Nitroglycerin to relieve chest pain and improve blood flow
  • Oxygen therapy

Less severe heart attacks may be treated with medication. Your doctor will prescribe your medications based on your condition, risk factors, and overall health. These drugs may include:

  • Clot busters to dissolve clots that are blocking arteries
  • Blood pressure medications to help reduce the heart’s workload and control blood pressure
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
  • Statins to help lower LDL cholesterol

Recovering from a Heart Attack

The time it takes to recover from a heart attack will depend on the amount of damage to your heart muscle. Most people can return to work after having a heart attack. Some people are well enough to return to work after 2 weeks. Other people may take several months to recover. How quickly you can go back to work depends on your health, the state of your heart and the type of work you do.

The recovery process aims to:

Reduce your risk of another heart attack through a combination of lifestyle changes (such as eating a healthy diet), and medicines (such as statins), which help to lower blood cholesterol levels gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities (cardiac rehabilitation)

Tips to Prevent a Heart Attack

  • Spend at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week doing moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (such as fish), beans, lentils, nuts, and olive oil.
  • Avoid red meat, processed foods, and beverages with added sugars.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Take your medications consistently.
  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Get regular checkups and blood work done.

Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early, so talk to your doctor about your concerns regarding your heart health. If you think you may have heart disease, based on new signs or symptoms you’re having, make an appointment to see your doctor. Dr Sourabh Sharma is a well Known cardiovascular and heart specialist in Kota Rajasthan. If you’re concerned about developing heart disease, talk to him about steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk. This is important if you have a family history of heart disease.

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