A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is characterized by decreased oxygen and blood flow to the heart. Sometimes plaque builds up in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart in a process called atherosclerosis. When this plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form and block blood flow to the heart partially or completely. The more time that passes during a heart attack, the more damage done to the heart muscle. Within 30 minutes of a blockage, irreversible heart damage can occur. A heart attack can also cause potentially fatal arrhythmias, heart failure, and cardiac arrest.
Heart attacks are most often caused by atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, or the buildup of plaque within the coronary arteries that supply blood flow to the heart. Sometimes this plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot to form and subsequently block blood flow to the downstream region of the heart. In some cases, heart attacks can be caused by spasms of the coronary arteries. Risk factors include age, race, lack of exercise, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, obesity, tobacco use, drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, metabolic syndrome, stress, family history of heart disease or heart attack, history of preeclampsia, gender (males or postmenopausal women), poor dieting, certain infections, or certain autoimmune conditions.
Chest pain, pressure, or tightness (especially on the left side)
Radiation of pain to jaw, arms, shoulders, neck, abdomen, or back
Shortness of breath
Heart attacks are often treated with medications such as aspirin or nitroglycerin along with blood thinners, thrombolytics, pain medication, and/or other medications. Surgically, a heart attack patient may undergo percutaneous coronary intervention, in which the Doctor inserts a small catheter through a vein in the wrist or groin and attempts to break up the clot blocking a coronary artery. Doctors may also place a cardiac stent during percutaneous coronary intervention to improve blood flow long-term. In some cases, a coronary artery bypass graft, which involves a more invasive surgery, may be required. Cardiac rehabilitation is often a significant part of treatment as well.
The best way to prevent heart attack is to maintain a healthy weight, eat a heart healthy diet, manage stress, get enough sleep, avoid smoking, control underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, get regular exercise, see a doctor regularly, and take all medications prescribed by your doctor such as daily aspirin.
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