» 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?
(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.
What are the risk factors for a heart attack?
You may be at risk for a heart attack if you:
- 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.
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
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.
(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
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:
- 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)
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.
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.