Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates

Heart Attack

» What is a heart attack?
» What are the risk factors for a heart attack?
» What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
» How are heart attacks diagnosed?
» How are heart attacks treated?
» How can heart attacks be prevented?

Heart with muscle damage and a blocked arteryHeart with muscle damage and a blocked artery
(Source: National Institutes of Health)

What is a heart attack?

Like all muscles, your heart needs oxygen to function, and that oxygen is delivered through the blood in your circulatory system. A heart attack (also called a coronary attack) occurs when the arteries that deliver blood to the heart become blocked. If the flow is not restored quickly, the coronary tissue can start to die.

» Back to top

What are the risk factors for a heart attack?

You may be at risk for a heart attack if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have diabetes
  • Are overweight
  • Have an inactive lifestyle

To learn more about your risk for a heart attack, visit the CardioSmart (American College of Cardiology) page on Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack), and talk to your doctor about how you can reduce your risk.

» Back to top

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

The warning signs of a heart attack can actually be very different for men and women. The most common warning signs in men include:

  • A sensation of pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, the neck, the jaw or the stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

While women also experience chest pain or discomfort at the onset of a heart attack, they are more likely to experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back pain, or jaw pain. Learn more about heart disease in women.

» Back to top

What to expect during an electrocardiogram
(Source: National Institutes of Health)

How are heart attacks diagnosed?

If you go to the hospital with warning signs of a heart attack, the doctor will first ask about your medical history and give you a physical examination. You will then be connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG, a device that records the heart's electrical activity), which will show any abnormalities caused by damage to the heart. You may also have a blood test to check for high levels of certain enzymes called heart damage markers or cardiac enzymes

» Back to top

How are heart attacks treated?

Since early treatment can prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle, some treatments may be given before a diagnosis of heart attack is even confirmed. These may include:

  • Oxygen
  • Aspirin (thins the blood to prevent further clotting)
  • Nitroglycerin (reduces the heart's workload and improves blood flow)

After a diagnosis of heart attack is confirmed, your medical team will try to restore blood flow to the heart with thrombolytic medications (also called "clot busters") or by performing angioplasty, a nonsurgical procedure to open the blocked or narrowed arteries. (Learn more about angioplasty)

Other treatments for heart attack include:

  • Medication such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, anticoagulants or anticlotting medications
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), in which a surgeon removes a healthy artery from elsewhere in your body and connects it (grafts it) to the blocked coronary artery. (Learn more about coronary bypass surgery)

» Back to top

How can heart attacks be prevented?

You can lower your risk of heart attack by making a few healthy lifestyle changes, including:

  • Stop smoking
  • Manage high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Reduce your cholesterol levels
  • Be physically active (check with your doctor before beginning any kind of exercise program)
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level
  • Control your diabetes
  • Reduce your stress level
  • Limit your alcohol intake

Your doctor may have other suggestions about specific actions that can reduce your risk for heart attack; be sure to discuss it with him or her, especially if heart disease runs in your family.

» Back to top

For more information about Methodist DeBakey Cardiology Associates or to make an appointment,
please call us at 713-441-1100 or 888-361-4375, or contact us online.