A heart attack happens when the bloodflow to the coronary arteries is blocked. So the heart does not receive blood and oxygen. The blood flow should be restored as quickly as possible, the opposite of which is that the heart muscle begins to die.
Symptoms of a heart attack can be individual. They are also different in men (strong, severe chest pain) and women (discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting).
However, the most common warning symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women are:
- Chest pain or discomfort. It occurs usually in the center or left side of the chest; it may appear, disappear and come back. The feeling can be described as feeling pressure, squeezing, fullness, pain, even heartburn or indigestion.
- Upper body discomfort. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach (above the belly button).
- Shortness of breath. This may be your only symptom, or it may occur before or along with chest pain or discomfort. It can occur when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
- Sudden cold sweat
- Feeling unusually tired even for days (for women)
- Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
- Any sudden, new symptom or a change in the pattern of symptoms you already have (for example, if your symptoms become stronger or last longer than usual)
The major risk factors for a heart attack refer to the lifestyle, like smoking, eating fats, not taking control of your weight, which further leads to high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Very often, some of these risk factors occur together and they are called metabolic syndrome. This syndrome doubles the risk of a heart attack.
Other risk factors are:
- Family history of early heart disease, i.e. before 65 years of age
- Preeclampsia, which occurs during pregnancy, is high blood pressure and extra protein in the urine, which can be lifetime risk of heart attack, beside a risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure or high blood pressure
The most common cause of a heart attack is atherosclerosis. It means hardened arteries because of a build up plaques on their walls. These plaques may rupture and then a blood clot is formed. This blood clot prevents and blocks the blood flow to the coronary arteries.
Another cause, less common one, is a severe spasm of a coronary artery. Spasms can occur in coronary arteries that don’t have atherosclerosis. Spasm may occur due to tobacco, cocaine, illicit drugs or stress.
Complications of a heart attack can happen because of the damaged part of the heart muscle where the attack was. These are:
- heart failure can occur because the damaged heart mucle cannot properly pump
- arrhythmia can occur because electrical “short circuits” can develop after a heart attack
- valve problems, leaking blood, instead of their proper opening and closing
- heart rupture occurs if the heart muscle is so weakened
Prevention goes in line with maintaining healthy lifestyle and regular check-ups.