Heart attacks are a serious form of heart disease, with many different causes.
If some of the heart muscle dies, a person experiences chest pain and electrical instability of the heart muscle tissue. Here, we will cover information about how and why heart attacks occur, how they are treated, and how to prevent them.
Other terms used for a heart attack include myocardial infarction, cardiac infarction, and coronary thrombosis. An infarction is when the blood supply to an area is cut off, and the tissue in that area dies.
- 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.
What causes heart attack?
The following factors are associated with increased risk of a heart attack:
- Age - when a man is over 45, and when a woman is over 55.
- Angina - causes chest pain due to lack of oxygen or blood supply to the heart.
- High cholesterol levels - increase the chance of blood clots in the arteries.
- Diabetes - increases heart attack risk.
- Diet - for example, consuming large quantities of saturated fats.
- Genetics - you can inherit a higher risk of heart attack.
- Heart surgery.
- Hypertension - also known as high blood pressure.
- Obesity - or being significantly overweight.
- Previous heart attack.
- Smoking - smokers are at much higher risk than non-smokers.
- HIV - people who are HIV-positive have a 50 percent higher risk.
- Work stress - those who are shift workers or have stressful jobs.
Physical inactivity is a factor in heart attack risk, and the more active people are, the lower their risk of having a heart attack.
Often, when it occurs, a heart attack is caused by a combination of factors, rather than a single one.
Symptoms of heart attack
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:
- crushing chest pain
- shortness of breath called dyspnea
- face seeming gray in color
- a feeling of terror that life is ending
- feeling awful, generally
- 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.
When a person has these symptoms, the emergency services should be called immediately.
What are the treatments for 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.
Treatments during a heart attack
Defibrillator panels can be effective during a heart attack.
Sometimes, a person who is having a heart attack will stop breathing. In this case, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, should be started immediately. This process involves:
- manual chest compressions
- a defibrillator
Treatments following a heart attack
Most people will need several kinds of medications or treatments after a heart attack. The aim of these measures is to prevent future heart attacks occurring. They may include:
- aspirin and other antiplatelets
- beta blockers
- ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors
- CABG or coronary artery bypass graft
Heart attack prevention
The best way of preventing a heart attack is to have a healthy lifestyle. Measures for healthy living include the following:
- not smoking
- eating a balanced, healthful diet
- getting plenty of exercise
- getting plenty of good quality sleep
- keeping diabetes under control
- keeping alcohol intake down
- maintaining blood cholesterol at optimum levels
- keeping blood pressure at a safe level
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- avoiding stress where possible
- learning how to manage stress
It may be helpful for people to learn more about the warning signs of a heart attack, as well.
Diagnosis of heart attack
Any doctor, nurse, or healthcare professional will send someone straight to hospital if they suspect they may be having a heart attack. Once there, several tests may be done, including:
- ECG or electrocardiograph
- cardiac enzyme tests
- chest X-ray
Recovery after a heart attack
Recovering from a heart attack can be a gradual process. It depends on the severity of the heart attack and other factors, such as a person's age.
A person's recovery may involve:
- Resuming physical activity: it is vital that a recovering heart attack patient stays active. However, a specialist should design any exercise program for them.
- Returning to work: the appropriate time for someone to go back to work depends on various factors, including the severity of the heart attack and the type of job they do. It is vital not to rush back to work.
- A period of depression: many people who have had a heart attack experience depression not long afterward. Those who feel depressed or anxious should tell their doctors.
- Driving again: experts advise that a person refrains from driving for at least 4 weeks after a heart attack.
- Erectile dysfunction: approximately one-third of men have problems getting or sustaining an erection after a heart attack.
It is important that men with erectile dysfunction talk to their doctors, as medication can restore function in most cases.
Experts say that sexual activity does not raise a person's risk of having another heart attack.
Complications after a heart attack
There are two types of complications that can happen following heart attack. The first occurs pretty much straightaway and the second happens later on.
- 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.