Heart attack: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

A heart attack is the death of a segment of heart muscle caused by a loss of blood supply. The blood is usually cut off when an artery supplying the heart muscle is blocked by a blood clot.

If some of the heart muscle dies, a person experiences chest pain and electrical instability of the heart muscle tissue.

This MNT Knowledge Center will cover information about how and why heart attacks occur, how they are treated, and how to prevent them.

Fast facts on heart attacks:

During a heart attack, the heart muscle loses blood supply and is damaged.

Chest discomfort and pain are common symptoms.

The risk of a heart attack increases when a man is over 45 and a woman is over 55.

Smoking and obesity are big factors, particularly in the at-risk age range.

Symptoms

Man holding hands over heart because of chest pain attack
Crushing chest pain is a common symptom of heart attacks.

There are clear symptoms of a heart attack that require immediate medical attention.

A feeling of pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing, or aching in the chest or arms that spreads to the neck, jaw, or back can be a sign that a person is having a heart attack.

The following are other possible signs and symptoms of a heart attack occurring:

coughing

nausea

vomiting

crushing chest pain

dizziness

shortness of breath called dyspnea

face seeming gray in color

a feeling of terror that life is ending

feeling awful, generally

restlessness

feeling clammy and sweaty

shortness of breath

Changing position does not alleviate the pain of a heart attack. The pain a person feels is normally constant, although it may sometimes come and go.

Warning signs

As heart attacks can be fatal, it is vital to recognize the warning signs that an attack is occurring.

While the symptoms listed above are all linked to heart attacks, there are four warning signs listed by the American Heart Association (AHA) as being crucial signs of an attack. These include:

discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the chest that lasts several minutes or resolves then returns

pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, back, stomach, or jaw

sudden shortness of breath

Other signs can include a cold sweat, a sick or nauseous feeling, or being lightheaded.

When a person has these symptoms, the emergency services should be called immediately.

Complications

There are two types of complications that can happen following heart attack. The first occurs pretty much straightaway and the second happens later on.

Immediate complications

Arrhythmias: the heart beats irregularly, either too fast or too slowly.

Cardiogenic shock: a person’s blood pressure drops suddenly and the heart cannot supply enough blood for the body to work adequately.

Hypoxemia: levels of oxygen in the blood become too low.

Pulmonary edema: fluid accumulates in and around the lungs.

DVT or deep vein thrombosis: the deep veins of the legs and pelvis develop blood clots that either block or interrupt the flow of blood in the vein.

Myocardial rupture: the heart attack damages the wall of the heart, meaning an increased risk of a heart wall rupture.

Ventricular aneurysm: a heart chamber, known as a ventricle, forms a bulge.

Complications that can occur later

Aneurysm: scar tissue builds up on the damaged heart wall, leading to blood clots, low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Angina: not enough oxygen reaches the heart, causing chest pain.

Congestive heart failure: the heart can only beat very weakly, leaving a person feeling exhausted and breathless.

Edema: fluid accumulates in the ankles and legs, causing them to swell.

Loss of erectile function: erectile dysfunction is generally caused by a vascular problem. However, it can also be the result of depression.

Loss of libido: a loss of sexual drive can happen, especially in the case of men.

Pericarditis: the lining of the heart becomes inflamed, causing serious chest pain.

It is important that a doctor monitors a person for several months after they have had a heart attack to check for any of these complications that may occur.

One of the main treatments during a heart attack is use of defibrillator panels.
Defibrillator panels can be effective during a heart attack.

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.

Treatments during a heart attack

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