Heart Attack: Know the Signs
A heart attack occurs when a section of the heart muscle dies or gets damaged because of reduced blood supply. Cells in the heart muscle do not receive enough oxygen and begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm of a coronary artery, which also can prevent blood supply from reaching the heart. It is important to seek treatment for a heart attack immediately. Otherwise, further damage to the heart muscle can occur and an irregular heart rhythm may develop.
Having high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, smoking, and having had a previous heart attack, stroke, or diabetes can increase a person's chances of having a heart attack.
Sudden cardiac arrest – the stopping of the heart – occurs when the heart stops completely. Unless treated, a person whose heart has stopped will die within minutes.
Know Heart Attack Signs & Symptoms
Heart attacks may not be like what you see in the movies – sudden and intense. Many heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.
The promptness of treatment directly affects survival of a heart attack. Most heart attack deaths happen within the first two hours after the symptoms begin. Recognizing and responding promptly to heart attack symptoms and receiving the appropriate artery opening treatment within one hour of symptom onset can prevent or limit heart damage.
Common Heart Attack Warning Signs
Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath. This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort, but it can occur before the chest discomfort.
Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling weak, nausea or lightheadedness. As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea (vomiting) and back or jaw pain.
What To Do
At the first sign of heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately! You must act quickly to prevent disability or death.
If you or someone you are with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don't wait longer than five minutes before calling 9-1-1 for help.
Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical personnel can begin treatment even before you get to the hospital. They also have the equipment and training to start your heart beating again if it stops.
People who experience a heart attack need emergency care such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or electrical shock (defibrillation). That’s why you need to act quickly by calling 9-1-1 once you notice the signs and symptoms of heart attack. A person's chances of surviving a heart attack are increased if emergency treatment is given to the victim as soon as possible.
Bystanders can perform hands only CPR or use a defibrillator to help the victim until emergency medical personnel arrives. Remember to use the chain of survival.
Remember, the chances of surviving a heart attack are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly.
Life After Heart Attack
If you've had a heart attack, your heart may still be damaged. This could affect your heart's rhythm, pumping action and blood circulation. You also may be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders and peripheral arterial disease; however, there are steps you can take to lower your chances of having future health problems.
Your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation, which is a program that can help you make lifestyle changes to improve your heart health and quality of life. These changes may include taking medication, changing what you eat, increasing your physical activity, stopping smoking and managing stress. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor about everyday activities. He or she may want you to limit work, travel, sex or exercise.