Heart attacks involve blockages to the arteries supplying the heart. In a “mini” heart attack, blood flow to the heart is partially blocked. Symptoms include chest pain and are similar to those of a heart attack, but there is less damage to the heart.

The technical term for a “mini” heart attack is a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI).

While the term “mini” heart attack may sound as though it is less severe than other types of heart attack, this condition is still serious and constitutes a medical emergency. Therefore, anyone experiencing heart attack symptoms should seek emergency medical attention.

The symptoms of different heart attack types are similar, so doctors use EKGs and blood tests to make a definitive diagnosis.

This article describes what an NSTEMI heart attack is and what it feels like. We also outline its diagnosis, treatment, and outlook.

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Heart attacks occur when one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart becomes blocked. The area of the heart that usually receives blood from that artery becomes damaged. The damage worsens the longer the blockage remains.

In an NSTEMI, there is only a partial blockage in the artery. This means the heart may have less damage than a STEMI, where the blockage is complete. The prognosis is often better than STEMI.

Doctors consider both types of heart attack and a third condition called unstable angina as acute coronary syndromes (ACS). ACS refers to a condition that reduces or blocks the blood supply to the heart.

Although an NSTEMI heart attack may cause less damage, it is still a medical emergency. If individuals have heart attack symptoms, they should seek emergency medical attention. However severe a heart attack is, it is always best to take a cautious approach.

The symptoms of an NSTEMI heart attack may resemble a regular heart attack. They include:

  • pressure-like pain in the chest that lasts more than 10 minutes
  • pain that radiates to either arm, neck, or jaw
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fainting
  • fatigue
  • sweating

People may also experience sudden shortness of breath with no other symptoms. Additionally, atypical symptoms may occur in females, older individuals over 75 years, and those with chronic disease. These symptoms may include stabbing pain, indigestion, and abdominal pain.

There are also differences in symptoms across sexes. Males usually experience chest pressure that lasts for several minutes, and they can also have shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea. Females usually experience middle or upper back pain and shortness of breath.

An extensive 2019 review of nearly 22,000 individuals noted that the symptoms of NSTEMI and STEMI heart attacks were similar. However, the proportion of individuals experiencing chest pain, sweating, radiating pain, and nausea was lower in NSTEMI than in STEMI heart attacks. Conversely, the proportion of shortness of breath and heart palpitations was higher in NSTEMI than in STEMI heart attacks.

Heart attacks occur when an artery that supplies blood to the heart becomes blocked. The blockage interrupts the blood supply, which damages the heart muscle.

Most heart attacks are due to coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease. If an individual has coronary heart disease, cholesterol and other fats form plaques that build up on the walls of the coronary arteries that feed the heart. These plaques can have inflammation and break open to cause blood clots that block the artery.

The risk of an individual experiencing an NSTEMI or other type of heart attack increases if they:

Doctors use EKGs and blood tests to diagnose heart attacks.

The EKG shows activity in the heart. Although the symptoms of NSTEMI and STEMI heart attacks are similar, the EKG results are different. Typically, EKGs show a flat line between heartbeats. This line raises during a STEMI heart attack but lowers for an NSTEMI heart attack.

Doctors also use blood tests, because if an individual has experienced a heart attack, they have increased levels of a cardiac marker called troponin.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and all types of heart attacks are medical emergencies.

The treatment doctors recommend for an NSTEMI heart attack depends on the extent of blockage of the coronary arteries and the event’s severity.

Doctors will administer aspirin in the first instance to prevent blood clotting. They may also administer nitroglycerin under the tongue to improve the blood flow to the heart by opening the arteries.

Once tests confirm an individual has an NSTEMI heart attack, doctors begin blood thinning therapies, such as heparin. Other common medications include:

Doctors may also use a procedure called angioplasty, where they insert a balloon into the artery and inflate it to open up the blockage. They may then insert a stent into the artery to keep it open.

An individual’s outlook depends on the heart attack severity, how well they respond to treatment, and their general health.

A positive outlook may depend on an individual’s willingness to make lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of heart disease. Maintaining a moderate weight, being physically active, and avoiding tobacco are factors that can improve someone’s outlook.

Doctors classify heart attacks according to their EKG patterns and degree of blockage. These conditions involve blockages in the arteries that supply the heart with blood. However, an NSTEMI heart attack only involves a partial blockage in the arteries.

Doctors use EKGs and blood tests to make a definitive diagnosis. They typically treat NSTEMI heart attacks with aspirin and nitroglycerin. They may then use angioplasty to open up the blocked artery.

An individual’s likelihood of experiencing a heart attack increases with obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and other risk factors. If someone has a heart attack, their outlook depends on their willingness to make certain lifestyle changes that reduce the risk.