Heart Attack

Find a Specialist Near You

A heart attack (also called a coronary attack) occurs when the arteries that deliver oxygenated blood to the heart become blocked. If the flow is not restored quickly, the coronary tissue can start to die.

Heart attacks occur most often due to coronary artery disease. Factors that put patients at risk of coronary artery disease leading to heart attack include the following: 

  • Smoking 
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Diabetes 
  • Overweight
  • Inactive lifestyle


Diagnosing a Heart Attack
The warning signs of a heart attack can be very different for men and women. The most common warning signs in men include the following conditions:

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


Women also experience chest pain or discomfort at the onset of a heart attack, but they are more likely to experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Insomnia
  • Indigestion
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety


Early attention is key. If you or someone you know has these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Eighty-five percent of the damage from a heart attack takes place in the first two hours. Responding immediately can help prevent heart damage and avoid sudden death.
If you go to the hospital with warning signs of a heart attack, the doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical examination. You will then be connected to an electrocardiogram (EKG), which is a device that records the heart's electrical activity. The EKG results 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.

Treating a Heart Attack
Because early treatment can prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle, some measures may be taken before a diagnosis of heart attack is confirmed:

  • Oxygen will be administered to the patient
  • Aspirin may be given to thin the blood to prevent further clotting
  • Nitroglycerin is commonly given to reduce the heart's workload and improve 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 an angioplasty, which is a nonsurgical procedure to open the blocked or narrowed arteries.

Other treatments for a heart attack include the following:

  • Medication, such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, anticoagulants or anticlotting medications, which are used to open the blood vessels and/or prevent clotting
  • Coronary bypass surgery, in which a surgeon removes a healthy artery from your body and connects or replaces it to the blocked coronary artery