Heart attack symptoms can vary in their onset, intensity, and duration. Some may come on suddenly, while others may begin slowly. They may last for a few minutes or several hours.
Untreated heart attack symptoms can lead to serious complications or even death. Therefore, it is important that people receive urgent treatment once symptoms begin.
This article will address how long a heart attack can last. It will also list the symptoms of a heart attack and discuss how and when to seek treatment.
Heart attack symptoms typically persist for longer than a few minutes. They may go away and come back again, or they may occur intermittently over several hours.
In most cases, the symptoms will begin slowly and cause mild pain or discomfort. Sometimes, however, the symptoms can be sudden and intense.
Chest pain that lasts for several weeks or months is unlikely to be a heart attack or other life threatening emergency.
However, it is vital that people do not wait to see how long the pain lasts. They will need emergency treatment for the symptoms of a heart attack.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from one individual to another. Some common heart attack symptoms include:
- chest pain or pressure
- feeling lightheaded or faint
- shortness of breath
- cold sweats
- pain that may spread to the:
The more signs and symptoms a person has, the greater the likelihood that they are having a heart attack.
Females are less likely than males to experience severe chest pain. In some cases, there is no chest discomfort at all.
Instead, they may develop some of the other symptoms of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath or tiredness.
If a person does not receive treatment for a heart attack, it can lead to serious complications. It may even be fatal.
According to the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, people have approximately 90 minutes between heart attack onset and getting medical treatment to prevent damage to critical heart tissue.
During a heart attack, blood flow to the heart stops due to a blockage in a coronary artery. These are the arteries that carry blood to the heart. If a person does not receive immediate treatment, this lack of blood flow can cause damage to the heart.
Complications arising from this situation include:
- Arrhythmias: These are abnormal heartbeats.
- Cardiogenic shock: This refers to severe damage to the heart muscle.
- Heart failure: This occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood around the body efficiently.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), many people die suddenly from such complications — some before they reach hospital and others within the first month of having a heart attack.
The longer a heart attack is left untreated, the more damage that occurs and the worse the outcome becomes.
Someone should call 911 immediately if they or someone else is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack. Even if a person is unsure, they should still seek emergency treatment.
By calling 911, treatment can begin as soon as the emergency services team arrives.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), calling an ambulance allows treatment to begin up to an hour sooner than if people travel to the hospital by car. Those arriving by ambulance may also receive faster treatment at the hospital.
Waiting for an ambulance
It may be helpful to take an aspirin tablet, ideally 300 milligrams, while waiting for an ambulance. A person can take an aspirin tablet if they do not have an allergy to it and if a doctor or member of the emergency services team has recommended it.
Aspirin is a blood-thinning medication that may help restore some blood flow to the heart.
A person should make sure that they have taken any prescribed heart medication as instructed while they are waiting for the ambulance to arrive. These medications may include nitroglycerin or beta-blockers.
Treatment will vary according to the type of heart attack a person is experiencing.
In most cases, a doctor will treat heart attacks using catheterization and stent placement. Catheterization involves feeding a tube into the heart through a small cut in the groin or arm. A stent will hold the artery open.
Forms of immediate treatment at the hospital may include:
- Aspirin: This prevents further blood clotting.
- Nitroglycerin: This helps improve blood flow.
- Oxygen therapy: This helps increase oxygen levels.
- Treatment for chest pain: This can reduce pain or discomfort.
Surgery can help restore blood flow to the heart. Surgical procedures for heart attack patients include bypass surgery. Bypass surgery involves redirecting the blood flow around the blockage.
Some people also consider catheterization and stent placement to be a form of surgery.
A doctor might give the person medications to dissolve a blood clot. Medications that dissolve blood clots are called thrombolytics.
The doctor may later prescribe other medications to reduce the risk of future heart attacks, including:
The time it takes to recover from a heart attack varies. It depends on several factors, including the person’s overall health and the amount of damage the heart attack has done to their heart muscle.
Most people have to stay in the hospital for at least a few days after a heart attack. Those who have undergone bypass surgery will need to stay longer — sometimes a week or more.
Some people may be able to return to work and other activities after 2 weeks, while others will require several months of recovery time.
Most people will recover from a heart attack, especially if they receive emergency medical treatment.
The survival rate for heart attacks is now 90%. This is because doctors are now much more able to diagnose and treat heart attacks. Therefore, receiving immediate medical treatment is crucial.
Adopting preventive methods is also extremely important. This can help reduce the risk of experiencing future heart attacks.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of experiencing a first or subsequent heart attack. These include:
- quitting smoking
- adopting a cardiac diet
- getting regular physical activity
- treating related conditions, such as:
The symptoms of a heart attack can start immediately and last for several hours.
However, the symptoms can vary greatly in their presentation, onset, and duration. Some people may notice that the symptoms appear suddenly, while others experience a gradual onset.
Once a person notices symptoms, someone should call 911, and the person should take an aspirin tablet (if they do not have an aspirin allergy and if a medical professional has instructed them to do so). Receiving immediate medical attention is the best way to improve a person’s outlook.
With urgent treatment, most people will recover from a heart attack and can live fulfilling lives. Making healthful lifestyle choices and following the recommended treatment plan can reduce the risk of experiencing future heart attacks.