A heart attack or myocardial infraction (MI), occurs when the heart is not getting enough oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood the heart muscle needs to do its work flows through the arteries. Most often, a heart attack occurs when a blood clot blocks the arteries. Blood clots can form when plaques (a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or other substances on arteries wall) rupture. When oxygen can’t reach a part of the heart muscle, that part becomes damaged. Common symptoms of a heart attack include pressure, tightness, or pain in the chest or arms; nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain; shortness of breath, cold sweats, fatigue, or dizziness. Symptoms and severity may vary, especially in women. Symptoms may start slowly and build over time. It is important to call for emergency medical help immediately if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack.
There are many factors that put you at risk for a heart attack. Age, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, family history of heart attack, obesity, stress, lack of exercise, certain autoimmune conditions (like arthritis or lupus), and illegal drug may all increase your risk. An electrocardiogram (EKG) is typically used to diagnose heart attacks. EKGs monitor heart rate and rhythm and can show if a heart attack is in progress or has already happened. Other tests include blood tests, chest x-rays, and echocardiogram. A cardiac catheterization may be used to check for blockages in the arteries that supply the heart. Medications such as aspirin, and blood thinners, and special heart medications may be used to manage the pain and prevent future attacks. Surgical procedures such as coronary angioplasty or coronary artery bypass may be suggested. Diet changes and an exercise plan may also be part of recovery and prevention plan. Talk with your doctor about the latest treatment options. Support groups are also good resources for support and information.