Heart Attack - Myocardial Infarction (MI)
A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency condition. Heart attack, medically termed myocardial infarction (MI), is the leading cause of death for men and women. A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygenated blood and the heart cannot function.
An ambulance should be called immediately if a heart attack is suspected. Symptoms of a heart attack include pain or pressure in the center of the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and pain that radiates from the chest into the teeth, jaws, shoulders, or arms. A heart attack can be fatal. Immediate emergency medical care is necessary to sustain life and prevent medical complications.
Your heart contains four chambers. The chambers are separated by the septum, a thick muscle wall. There are two chambers on each side of your heart. The top chambers are called atria, and they receive blood. The bottom chambers are called ventricles, and they send blood.
A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle cells die or are damaged because they do not receive enough oxygen. Clots that block the coronary arteries cause the majority of heart attacks. The most common cause of clots is atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a disorder that causes plaque build up and hardening of the arteries. As the arteries harden and thicken, blood does not flow efficiently. The plaque build up inside the arteries can crack and trigger blood clot formation. A clot in the coronary artery blocks the blood flow to the heart muscle and causes cell death.
There are several tests that can help to identify a heart attack and the extent of damage. Common tests include an electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, coronary angiography, and nuclear ventriculography (MUGA or RNV). An ECG records the heart’s electrical activity. An ECG may be repeated over several hours. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce an image of the heart on a monitor. A dye and X-ray are used to show an image of the heart and its arteries with a coronary angiography. A nuclear ventriculography involves using a safe radioisotope injection to produce an image of the heart with special scanners.
You should make lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthy. This may include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, avoiding alcohol, eating healthy foods, and regular aerobic exercise. You should take all of your medications as directed. Follow up care is necessary to prevent a second heart attack and associated medical complications.
Am I at Risk
Risk factors may increase your likelihood of a heart attack, although some people that experience a heart attack do not have any risk factors. People with all of the risk factors may never develop a heart attack; however, the likelihood increases with the more risk factors you have. You should tell your doctor about your risk factors and discuss your concerns.
Risk factors for heart attack:
_____ Being overweight increases the risk of damage to your heart and arteries.
_____ High blood pressure increases your risk for a heart attack.
_____ High cholesterol increases your risk of a heart attack.
_____ Diabetes damages your blood vessels when your blood sugar levels are out of control.
_____ Smoking narrows your blood vessels; it increases your risk of dying from heart disease.
_____ Men have a higher risk of heart disease after age 45.
_____ Women have a higher risk of heart disease after age 55.
_____ African Americans and Hispanics have a greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
_____ Heart disease can run in families. If your grandparents, parents, brothers, or sisters have heart disease, then your risk is increased.
_____ Illegal drug use, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, increases your risk of heart attack.
A heart attack is a life threatening medical emergency. A heart attack can cause death. Minutes matter. Contact emergency medical services immediately if you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing a heart attack. The longer a person waits to contact emergency medical services, the more likely the person is to develop life threatening arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), severe permanent heart damage, or death.
If you have experienced a heart attack, make and attend all of your follow up appointments. Good follow up care is necessary to help prevent a second heart attack or medical complications. It is also important to take all prescribed medications after a heart attack until instructed to stop by your doctor. Medical complications associated with heart attack include irregular heartbeats, congestive heart failure, heart inflammation, and blood clots.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.