Understanding a Heart Attack

Understanding a Heart Attack

When someone has a heart attack, everyone knows that something very serious happened.  But many people don’t actually know what’s going on with one of the body’s most important organs.

A heart attack is the common name for the medical term myocardial infarction. During a heart attack the blood supply to a portion of the heart is cut off.  When this happens the muscle cells of the heart can actually be damaged or die.  This causes the formation of scar tissue in the heart.

The most common reason for a heart attack is a blockage in the blood vessels. This happens when plaque builds up in the blood vessel walls in the heart.  Plaque is the result of cholesterol in the blood that becomes deposited on the blood vessel walls.

While heart attacks are very intense and come on quickly, there are often warning signs long before the attack occurs.  It’s important to know what these are so that you or someone you know can actually prevent a heart attack from happening.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort.  Many people describe the feeling as a tightness or pressure.  It may last for several minutes at a time.  It can also come and go.  People also sometimes feel discomfort in other areas of the body such as arms, jaw, neck, or back.  Sometimes people about to have a heart attack also have shortness of breath.

In men and women, there can also be differences in symptoms.  For years men were the only ones studied in heart disease research.  Current research in women shows that women also have nontraditional symptoms such as nausea and flu-like symptoms.

If you or someone you know experience symptoms like the ones described above, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  The best thing to do is immediately contact emergency services in your area.

For most people in the United States, this means calling 9-1-1.  Even if you’re not sure a heart attack is happening, it’s a good idea to call and let yourself or the person experiencing symptoms be looked at by a medical professional.

If you’re unable for any reason to contact emergency services, the next best thing is to go directly to the hospital.  The sooner you can get there, the sooner your symptoms can be diagnosed.  Getting medical treatment immediately can help to prevent a heart attack.  It can also help to prevent a second attack from occurring if there’s blockage that can be removed.

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