What is a heart attack?
When one of the arteries that bring blood to the heart gets blocked or partly blocked, this is a heart attack. When this happens, it hurts the part of the heart that gets blood from that artery. “Coronary arteries” are the blood vessels that bring blood to the heart.
Most of the time, heart attacks are caused by a disease called “coronary heart disease” or “coronary artery disease.” Plaques of fat build up on the walls of the coronary arteries in this disease. When these plaques break open, blood clots can form. Then, the blood clot can stop blood from getting to parts of the heart muscle by blocking an artery. Most heart attacks happen because of this.
Myocardial infarction, or “MI,” is the medical term for a heart attack.
What signs point to a heart attack?
When a heart attack is happening, people often notice:
- Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in other parts of the upper body, such as the shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Can’t get a breath
- Sickness, throwing up, belching, or heartburn
- Cold sweating
- A heartbeat that is fast or not even
- Feeling dizzy or about to pass out,
Call 9-1-1 right away if you think you might be having a heart attack. Don’t try to get yourself to the hospital.
Is there a way to check for a heart attack?
Yes. If your doctor thinks you are having a heart attack, he or she may order one or more of the following tests:
- An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test that measures how your heart works electrically.
- Blood tests: When a person has a heart attack, the heart releases chemicals into the blood. If these chemicals are in your blood, it could mean you are having a heart attack.
- Echocardiogram: In this test, ultrasounds can make a picture of your beating heart. During a heart attack, not all of the heart’s parts work as they should.
- During a cardiac catheterization, also called a “cardiac cath,” the doctor inserts a thin tube into a blood vessel in your arm or leg. The tube goes up to your heart. The doctor then puts an X-ray-visible dye into the tube. “Coronary angiography” is the name for this part of the test. It can tell if any of your heart’s arteries are blocked.
How do you treat a heart attack?
If you’re having a heart attack and go to the hospital, the doctors and nurses will do a few things:
- Give you oxygen through a mask.
- When you have a heart attack, they will give you painkillers to help ease the pain and discomfort in your chest. They might also give you a way to calm down.
- They will give you medicine to help stop more blood clots from forming.
- A beta blocker can cut down on how much oxygen your heart needs. This medicine can help make a heart attack less dangerous.
They will try to open up the blocked artery so that blood can flow through it again. This can be done in one of two ways:
- They can break up blood clots by giving you medicine through a thin tube that goes into a vein. This is called a “IV.” People call these “clot busters.”
- Along with cardiac catheterization, they can do a process called “stenting.” This is done by putting a “stent,” which is a tiny metal tube, into the blocked artery to keep it open.
Unless your heart attack caused other problems that need treatment, you will probably stay in the hospital for 3 to 5 days.
If you can’t get a stent or if it doesn’t work, your doctor may suggest that you have open heart surgery. This is also called bypass surgery or coronary artery bypass grafting. During this surgery, doctors make a new path, or detour, for the blood to take around the part of the artery that is blocked. The arteries and veins in your body are used to do this.
What happens after a heart attack?
After a heart attack, you will most likely need to:
- Take more medicines than you did before. It is very important that you take all your medicines every day as directed. People who have had a heart attack are given medicines that can help stop them from having more heart attacks and lower their chances of having a stroke or dying. You should tell your doctor if you can’t afford your medicines or if they make you feel bad. Most of the time, there are ways to fix these problems.
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- Change the way you eat. Try not to eat too many fried foods or foods with a lot of sugar. Eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies. Eat foods that are high in fiber.
- If you are overweight, you should lose weight. Doing so can lower your risk of having another heart attack and make you feel better.
- Be more active. Walking, gardening, and other activities that get you up and moving can help lower your risk.