Heart attack

November 12, 2012

Heart attack

Heart problems are common for many, and heart attacks can be very worrying and debilitating as well as life threatening in many case.

A heart attack occurs when part of the heart’s muscle is damaged or dies due to the interruption of blood flow to the heart – usually caused by a blockage. The medical term for heart attack is myocardial infarction or M.I.

What causes a myocardial infarction?

  • The supply of blood and oxygen to the heart is via one of the so-called ‘great arteries’ – the coronary artery, it is usually a blood clot in one of these great arteries which leads to an M.I.

  • Plaque build-up – cholesterol, among other things, can cause the build-up of plaque in the coronary arteries. The plaque may become damaged by developing cracks or tears – a clot may then develop around this tear which again will block the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. The slow build up of plaque may also contribute to myocardial infarction as it narrows the arteries.

  • Unknown cause – it is often the case that there is no known cause of an M.I to occur.

Symptoms of an M.I.

Chest pain is the common symptom of heart attack – the pain may only appear to be in one area of your body or it may move around your upper body including the neck, teeth and jaw. This pain may be fairly mild or extremely severe, will usually last for around 20 minutes, it will not disappear with rest and may come and go in waves. There are some cases where little or no chest pain is reported; a ‘silent heart attack’ occurs when there are no symptoms or pain. The pain is describe in several ways -

Bad indigestion

  • A tight band around the chest area

  • Heavy pressure or squeezing of the chest

  • Something heavy resting on the chest.

Other symptoms include

  • A sudden cough

  • Feelings of anxiety

  • Palpitations

  • Light headedness, dizziness

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Fainting

  • Shortness of breath

  • Extreme sweating

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing some or all of these symptoms then you must consider that the situation to be a medical emergency and therefore seek medical help without delay. Do not allow the patient to drive themselves to the hospital. Myocardial infarction can happen at any time and without warning – even when asleep.

Medical attention

Once you have found medical attention the practitioner may perform a physical exam and some tests after first giving you oxygen to enable your heart to slow down, you will be placed in a heart monitor and have an intravenous line inserted into a vein. You will also be given pain relief. Some of the tests you can expect include -

  • Use a stethoscope to listen to your chest for crackles in the lungs; heart murmur or other abnormal sounds

  • Blood pressure check

  • Pulse check

  • ECG

  • Blood tests

  • Coronary angiography

  • In the first few hours following an M.I the leading cause of death is arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, this maybe be treated via medication.


  • Thrombolytic therapy – so called ‘clot busting drugs’ – if administered within three hours of the initial pain this treatment is quite successful.

  • Angioplasty and stent – this is generally the first treatment choice within the first 12 hours of the attack. An angioplasty is a procedure which opens the narrowed or blocked arteries to the heart; during an angioplasty a small, metal, mesh tube – called a stent – may be placed in the coronary artery where it will then expand to prevent the artery closing again.

  • Open heart or bypass surgery

What happens next?

A myocardial infarction is usually followed by the implementation of a drug regime to prevent a second attack, these drugs may include -

  • Blood thinners such as aspirin or warfarin.

  • Beta blockers or ACE inhibitors

  • Statins

Most heart attack victims are soon able to return to a normal lifestyle.

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