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Heart Attack Explained

Written by
Dr. Muhammad Zohaib Siddiq
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Nov 23, 2016 and last reviewed on Jul 03, 2021   -  5 min read

Abstract

This article describes heart attack in simple language, which can be easily understood by common people.

Contents
Heart Attack Explained

Our heart works as a pump. As the water pump pulls water from back pipes and pushes it to forward pipes, our living pump functions. It receives blood from the body and pumps it forward to the body.

Blood contains oxygen and nutrients that our body metabolizes to generate the energy required for the body to work. For example, the heart itself needs oxygen and nutrients for energy generation. The heart receives blood through arteries called coronary arteries.

Heart Attack:

Damage to the heart muscle is caused by a loss of blood supply due to blocks in the arteries.

When any tissue is deprived of oxygen or other nutrients, it dies. Tissues get deprived of oxygen when there is a block in the flow of blood, that is, decreased supply or increased demand. Blood flow to the heart may decrease or cease due to many reasons. Most common is when there is a sudden blood clot formation in coronary arteries. Heart muscles get damaged when blood flow decreases or when the demand increases. When blood supply gets decreased than the demand of the heart, it causes pain in the chest. This pain is called angina pectoris in medical terms or angina in common usage. When supply decreases for a longer time or when demand keeps increasing, a part of the heart tissue will die, and it is called a heart attack. In medical terms, it is known as myocardial infarction (MI).

Symptoms Of Heart Attack?

The symptoms of a heart attack are:

What Can Be The Warning Signs Of Heart Attack?

Pain or pressure in the chest area is a common symptom of a heart attack. People will also experience jaw pain, heartburn, sweating, headache, shortness of breath, jaw pain, toothache, and nausea and vomiting.

How Can Heart Attack Be Diagnosed?

Heart attacks can be diagnosed with coronary angiogram and PTCA (coronary balloon angioplasty), and clot-dissolving drugs can quickly open blocked arteries to restore circulation to the heart and limit heart muscle damage. To optimally benefit heart attack victims and determine the extent of heart damage, the doctor should give these treatments to open blocked arteries earlier during a heart attack. Unfortunately, checking blood pressure is not a reliable method of whether one is having a heart attack or not. Blood pressure during a heart attack can be low, normal, or elevated.

What Are The Risk Factors?

Non-Modifiable Risk Factors Of Heart Attack:

1. Increasing Age:

About 83 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. In addition, women are more likely to die at older ages than men from coronary artery disease within a few weeks.

2. Gender:

Children whose parents are affected by heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do. Just as you cannot control your age, sex, and race, you cannot control your family history. Therefore, it is even more important to treat and prevent any other risk factors you have.

Modifiable Risk Factors Of Heart Attack:

1. Smoking:

Smokers' can develop coronary heart disease 24 times more than nonsmokers. In addition, cigarette smoking is the leading risk factor for sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease. Exposure to other people's smoke can also increase the risk of heart disease, even for nonsmokers. Smoking also can cancel the actions of cardiovascular protecting drugs like Aspirin and cancels 75% of the activities of Statins.

2. High Blood Cholesterol:

When the blood cholesterol level rises, the risk of coronary heart disease also increases. Other risk factors like high blood pressure and tobacco smoke can also increase the risk even more. The cholesterol level is also affected by their age, sex, heredity, and diet.

3. High Blood Pressure:

While increasing the heart's workload, high blood pressure causes the heart to get thickened and stiffer. The risk of stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure can also be increased by high blood pressure. The risk of heart attack or stroke can be increased several times if high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, or diabetes.

4. Physical Inactivity:

The risk of getting coronary heart disease can be increased by a sedentary lifestyle. The more vigorous your activity, the greater your benefits are. However, even moderate activities can help if done regularly. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension (high blood pressure) in some people. Doctors have also improved physical activity programs anywhere and at any time.

5. Obesity:

People who have excess body fat, especially at the waist, are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke despite having no other risk factors. Excess weight can increase the heart's work. It can also raise blood pressure, blood cholesterol, triglyceride levels and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels. In addition, people with obesity are more prone to develop diabetes.

6. Diabetes Mellitus:

Diabetes can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when blood glucose levels are under control, diabetes can increase heart disease and stroke risk, but the chances are even more significant if blood sugar is not well controlled. Few people with diabetes will die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it is essential to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control any other risk factors you can.

7. Stress:

In a scientific study, it has been noted that there is a relationship between coronary heart disease risk and stress in a person's life, health behaviors, and socioeconomic status. These factors can also affect the established risk factors like overeating, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol. This can raise blood pressure, cause heart failure and lead to stroke. In addition, it can contribute to other factors like high triglycerides, cancer and can produce irregular heartbeats. It can also contribute to obesity, alcoholism, suicide, and accidents.

Angina Pain Versus Heart Attack Pain:

Angina and heart attack pain are felt in the center of the chest. The pain usually radiates to the neck or left arm and sometimes to both arms and shoulders. The variation between angina and heart attack is that angina pain occurs when one is very active, that is, when exerted, such as running, swimming, walking, climbing stairs, or cycling. It vanishes when one takes a rest. On the other hand, heart attack pain starts even if one is resting or sleeping and does not vanish on rest or lasts for longer than 30 minutes.

Emergency Treatment:

The first aid for angina and heart attack is stopping any activity and taking medicine, usually a Glyceryl trinitrate tablet under the tongue. This causes dilation of coronary arteries, and the pain will decrease or subside. It can be repeated two or more times at a five-minute interval. Even then, if the pain does not subside, then the Aspirin tablet should be chewed, and the cardiac emergency room should be approached without delay.

In the emergency room, ECG (electrocardiogram) is done to diagnose a heart attack. If there is a heart attack, then the next step is to open the coronary artery, which is blocked. Then, it is opened either by angioplasty or intravenous medicine. The choice depends upon the availability of expertise and the patient's wishes.

Contrary to common belief, a heart attack does not cause sudden death in most cases. However, sudden death may occur if the heart stops beating suddenly after an attack or when the heart's rhythm is disturbed.

Prevention of Heart Attack:

Prevention is better than cure. Therefore, to prevent heart attack, one should follow a few things:

  1. Lose weight if overweight.

  2. Stop smoking and drinking.

  3. Try to keep the blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol in normal ranges if suffering from any of these conditions.

  4. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week. Swimming, jogging, cycling, and brisk walking are the best exercises.

  5. If you already had a heart attack in the past, then apart from all these, take regular medicines according to your cardiologist's advice.

 

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Last reviewed at:
03 Jul 2021  -  5 min read

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