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Heart Attack and Its Early Recognition

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Heart Attack and Its Early Recognition

4 min read


Recognizing the early signs of a heart attack is crucial, as it helps prevent further heart damage. Learn about the life-saving steps one can take at home.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At May 27, 2016
Reviewed AtMarch 15, 2024

What Is Heart Attack?

A heart attack happens when there is a significant reduction or blockage in the flow of blood to the heart. Typically, this blockage occurs due to fat accumulation, cholesterol, and other substances like plaques. This buildup of plaques is referred to as atherosclerosis. On occasion, a plaque may break, leading to clot formation that causes blood flow obstruction. This reduction in blood flow can result in damage or even the destruction of a portion of the heart muscle. A heart attack, medically known as a myocardial infarction, requires prompt treatment to prevent fatalities.

What Is the Process That Occurs During a Heart Attack?

During a heart attack, there is a cessation or significant reduction in blood flow to a portion of the heart, resulting in injury or death of the affected heart muscle. The impaired pumping ability of the dying heart segment can lead to disruptions in overall heart function, potentially causing a halt or reduction in blood circulation throughout the body, with potentially fatal consequences if not promptly addressed.

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Some of the typical symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort is characterized by sensations such as tightness, pressure, squeezing, aching, or pain.

  • Pain or discomfort that radiates to the arm, shoulder, back, jaw, neck, teeth, or occasionally the upper abdomen.

  • Clammy perspiration (cold sweat).

  • Fatigue.

  • Indigestion or heartburn.

  • Sudden dizziness or lightheadedness.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Nausea.

Women may experience atypical symptoms such as sharp pain felt in the neck, back, or arm and fleeting pain. Occasionally, sudden cardiac arrest can be the initial sign of a heart attack.

While some heart attacks occur suddenly, many individuals experience symptoms and warning signs in hours, days, or weeks before. Persistent chest pain or pressure (angina) that persists and does not alleviate with rest could serve as an early indicator. Angina arises from a temporary reduction in blood flow to the heart.

What Are the Causes of Heart Attack?

Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease. In coronary artery disease, one or more of the coronary arteries of the heart get obstructed. This obstruction typically results from deposits of cholesterol known as plaques. These plaques can constrict the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart. When a plaque ruptures, it can trigger the formation of a blood clot within the heart.

A heart attack can result from either partial or complete blockage of a coronary artery. One method of categorizing heart attacks is based on whether an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) displays particular changes (ST elevation) that necessitate urgent invasive treatment. Healthcare providers may utilize electrocardiogram (ECG) findings to characterize these types of heart attacks.

  • If there is a sudden and complete obstruction of a medium or large coronary artery, it typically indicates that the individual experienced an ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI).

  • A partial blockage frequently indicates a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). Nevertheless, some individuals diagnosed with non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) may indeed have a complete blockage.

Blocked arteries are not the sole cause of all heart attacks. Other contributing factors include:

  • Coronary artery spasms, characterized by intense constriction of a blood vessel without blockage, can lead to a heart attack. Typically, the artery may contain cholesterol plaques or exhibit early hardening due to factors like smoking or other risk factors. This condition is also known as Prinzmetal's angina or variant angina.

  • Specific infections, including COVID-19 and other viral illnesses, can lead to heart muscle damage.

  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is a critical condition resulting from a tear occurring within a heart artery.

What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Attacks?

Factors that increase the risk of a heart attack include:

  • Age is a significant factor in heart attack risk, with men aged 45 and above and women aged 55 and above being more susceptible compared to younger individuals.

  • Tobacco consumption, which encompasses both smoking and prolonged contact with secondhand smoke, will significantly increase heart attack risk. If the individual is a smoker, it is advisable to quit.

  • Elevated blood pressure poses a significant risk factor for heart attack as it can gradually harm the arteries supplying the heart. When coupled with other conditions like obesity, high cholesterol, or diabetes, the risk of a heart attack is further heightened.

  • Elevated levels of cholesterol or triglycerides in the blood present a heightened risk for heart attack. Specifically, a high concentration of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is particularly associated with the narrowing of arteries. Additionally, increased levels of certain blood fats known as triglycerides further elevate the risk of experiencing a heart attack. Maintaining standard levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol helps lower heart attack risk.

  • Diabetes occurs when the body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot effectively utilize it, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. This heightened blood sugar significantly amplifies the risk of experiencing a heart attack.

  • Obesity is combined with diabetes, elevated blood pressure, heightened triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels, and reduced HDL cholesterol levels.

  • Emotional stress, including intense anger, can heighten the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack.

  • Metabolic syndrome, characterized by central obesity, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and elevated blood sugar, doubles the risk of heart disease.

  • Insufficient physical activity causes an increased risk of heart attacks, whereas regular exercise enhances heart health.

  • An unhealthy diet, rich in sugars, processed foods, animal fats, trans fats, and sodium, heightens the likelihood of heart attacks. Opt for fruits, vegetables, fiber, and healthy oils for a better heart.

What Are the Life-Saving Steps to Be Taken During a Heart Attack?

  • Individuals can take immediate life-saving steps at home before being transferred to the hospital.

  • Take an Aspirin tablet 75 mg to 200 mg maximum immediately. This helps decrease chest pain and improves the blood supply to the damaged region.

  • Reach the emergency department of the hospital as soon as possible. Reaching within two hours is considered to give a better disease outcome.

  • Never make the patient walk or stand during a heart attack. No physical stress should be allowed, and patients should be reassured to decrease anxiety.


Recognizing early signs of a heart attack, such as chest discomfort, sweating, or arm pain, is crucial for prompt medical intervention. Awareness of risk factors like age, smoking, and high blood pressure can aid in prevention. Reaching out to healthcare providers may be beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Meant by Early Detection of Heart Disease?

Early detection of heart disease can make a difference between life and mortality. Heart disease is usually fatal in some cases. Early detection of heart disease can lead to better chances and conditions of treating it.


What Are Four Signs Seen Before a Heart Attack?

The four signs that are seen before a heart attack are chest pain, shortness of breath, pain or discomfort in the shoulders or arms, and pain or discomfort in the jaw, back, or neck. These signs are often called silent warning signs of a heart attack. The signs may occur weeks or hours before the actual heart attack.


Can a Person Feel a Heart Attack Coming?

Sometimes the signs of a heart attack occur weeks or hours before the actual heart attack. The person cannot feel a heart attack coming; it is usually sudden in occurrence. It can occur anytime, anywhere, and mostly affects the old age group.


What Is Meant by Pre-heart Attack?

A heart attack with its own beginning and occasion is called a pre-attack heart attack. The symptoms of a pre-heart attack involve chest pain, fatigue, heartburn, indigestion, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. If a heart attack is experienced for more than 15 minutes, the heart muscles become prone to critical damage.


How to Diagnose Silent Heart Attack?

A silent heart attack occurs when the heart muscles get damaged due to inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues. The diagnosis of a silent heart attack can be made by physical examination, blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG), coronary angiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), exercise stress test, nuclear stress test, and echocardiogram.


How Long Does Silent Heart Attack Persists?

The duration of a silent heart attack varies from person to person. When the blood flow stops supplying the heart for fifteen minutes, the heart may get damaged. After thirty minutes of a heart attack, the damage may become irreversible.


Can a Heart Attack Be Detected by ECG?

Heart attacks can be detected by an electrocardiogram (ECG). It helps to record the electrical signals of the heart. It is usually a painless and easy test to detect and monitor heart problems. To detect a heart attack from an electrocardiogram (ECG), the person must have symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, arms and shoulders.


How Long Can the Duration of a Heart Attack Persist?

Heart attacks may often last from a few minutes to a few hours. The signs and symptoms vary from person to person; also, the duration is different for every individual. The symptoms of a heart attack can last for about fifteen minutes and more than that.


Can a Person Have a Mild Heart Attack Without Knowing It?

Mild heart attack is not associated with serious symptoms. It is often described by symptoms like squeezing, pain, or uncomfortable pressure. The symptoms are so mild that it becomes difficult for the person to know whether he or she is suffering from a heart attack.


How Late Can Heart Attack Be Detected?

The most commonly used heart attack marker is troponin. It can be tested immediately just after the symptoms of a heart attack appear. The risk of troponin levels is seen four hours after a heart attack and reaches to peak level between 24 and 48 hours. Increased level of troponin persists for about seven days.


Can Heart Attack Wake Person?

A heart attack can wake a person from sleep. Sleep disturbance occurs suddenly as the person experiences symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, digestive problems, and indigestion. While a silent heart attack may not awaken the person, and the person may not necessarily sense or feel chest discomfort.


Can a Person Survive a Heart Attack Alone?

A serious heart attack lasts about 20 minutes, and if the person does not receive treatment, he or she tends to die on the spot. Some people may get abnormal heart failure or heart rhythm which can be serious. People who wait for a longer time to get help may develop a risk of severe damage to their hearts, and the survival rate is also very low in such cases.


What Triggers a Heart Attack in a Person?

When the arteries that send oxygen and blood to blood vessels get blocked, it leads to a heart attack. Cholesterol and fatty acid-containing deposits that build up over time form plaque in heart arteries. The unexpected triggers of heart attack are migraine, cold weather, air pollution, heavy meals, negative emotions, intense workout, asthma, sex, and alcohol.


How Does a Person Feels After Suffering From Mild Heart Attack?

A person may feel fatigued after suffering from a mild heart attack. Discomfort in the center part of the chest is often experienced after a mild heart attack. Most people stay in hospital for a few days or weeks after they have had a mild heart attack.


How Does Aspirin Helps in Preventing Heart Attack?

Aspirin interferes with the clotting action of blood. It works on platelet by stopping the blood’s clotting mechanism. During a heart attack, the blood clots in the blood vessels through which the blood flows. Aspirin has anti-clotting action that makes the blood flow easily through the arteries.
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Dr. Mir Osman Ali
Dr. Mir Osman Ali

General Practitioner


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