The primary cause of a heart attack is a blood clot that creates a blockage to one of the hearts coronary arteries and thus preventing blood flow to the heart. This can also be from plaque build-up along the walls of the coronary arteries. Heart attacks can occur at any time, including after physical activity, while you are resting, if youre outside in cold weather and following an illness, physical or emotional stress.
There are also uncommon causes of heart attack such as using an illicit drug like cocaine, which can cause a spasm in your coronary artery. There are a variety of risk factors that can make you susceptible to a heart attack. This includes being a man over 45 or a woman over 55, smoking tobacco or having exposure to tobacco smoke over a long period of time, diabetes, being obese, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, being sedentary (lacking physical activity), having a family history of heart attack or heart disease, using illegal drugs or having extreme amounts of stress.
Many of the symptoms of a heart attack mimic other medical conditions, so its important to be aware of them and get medical attention if you experience them. Signs and symptoms to look for are having a heaviness, pressure or pain in your arm, chest or breastbone area, indigestion or choking feeling similar to heartburn, weakness or anxiety, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, fainting, nausea and vomiting, sweating, prolonged pain in your upper abdomen, radiating discomfort through your arm, back, jaw or throat. If any of these symptoms last longer than 30 minutes, call 911. Keep in mind there are also heart attacks without symptoms called silent myocardial infarctions.
Diagnosing a heart attack usually starts with a physical exam where a nurse or doctor listens to your chest and checks your heart rate. They will look for a heart murmur, uneven pulse, fast heart rate and an unusually high or low blood pressure. Other tests performed for diagnosis include an electrocardiogram (ECG), blood test, coronary angiography, nuclear stress test and an exercise stress test.
Treatment for a heart attack will begin immediately once the diagnosis is determined, so you should get emergency medical attention as soon as you think you might be having a heart attack. Medications are commonly used for treating a heart attack to break up blood clots and prevent plaque from worsening the situation. Drugs include aspirin, clot buster medications and antiplatelets. Several complications can occur if you dont get treatment right away. This includes getting heart arrhythmias, heart failure, heart rupture or valve problems. Bypass surgery might also be needed following a heart attack as this will restore the blood loss. If you have nitroglycerin prescribed or have been asked by 911 to take aspirin until help arrives, you should do so.
The best ways to prevent a heart attack are by eating right, exercising, taking a baby aspirin every day, quitting smoking and taking illicit drugs and keeping your cholesterol and blood pressure in check. Proper follow-up care is required after suffering from a heart attack, so keep a regular schedule with your medical physician.