A heart attack is the heart’s way of letting you know it needs oxygen — fast. When a heart attack occurs, a portion of the heart receives little to no oxygen-rich blood because, typically, a clot in an artery of the heart has slowed or halted blood flow. Consequences are swift: Within minutes, the affected portion of the heart can start to experience damage, which makes quick treatment essential.
A procedure to restore blood flow to the blocked artery can be lifesaving. The heart is resilient — with proper, timely treatment, it’s likely to heal, although it may be weaker than before. Adopting heart-healthy habits can help prevent another heart attack.
St. Louis Cardiovascular’s ER is Chest Pain Accredited. The ER medical professionals at Red Bud Regional Hospital are ready to care for you when a heart attack occurs.
Causes of a Heart Attack
Coronary artery disease (CAD) causes most heart attacks. The defining feature of CAD is plaque accumulation in the arteries of the heart, which takes place over years as a result of a process called atherosclerosis. As more and more plaque builds up, the arteries narrow. If a piece of plaque separates, it can form a blood clot in the artery, which may block the passage of blood. A coronary artery spasm or tear can also cause a heart attack, but that’s far less common than a CAD-related heart attack.
Risk Factors for a Heart Attack
Fortunately, most heart attack risk factors are within your power to change; notable exceptions are aging and a family history of early heart disease. Modifiable risk factors include:
- a diet high in fatty, salty foods
- a sedentary lifestyle
- chronic conditions linked to heart attack and CAD, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity
Heart Attack Symptoms
If you have a heart attack, you’re likely to feel pain or pressure in the center or left side of your chest. Other symptoms you may experience include:
- a cold sweat
- discomfort in any part of your upper body ranging from jaw to stomach
- extreme fatigue
- shortness of breath
Heart attack symptoms vary between individuals and can be different for men and women. Women are more likely to have difficulty breathing, feel nauseated and experience discomfort in the back or jaw.
If you experience any symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately so emergency medical personnel can respond and take you to the nearest emergency room (ER). Calling 911 is the quickest, safest way to set the diagnostic and treatment process in motion. The faster you receive treatment, the less damage your heart is likely to sustain.
Heart Attack Diagnosis
In the ER, physicians, nurses and other providers will work quickly to confirm a diagnosis of heart attack and administer treatment. In addition to asking about your symptoms and health history, an emergency medicine physician may order:
- an electrocardiogram, which checks the heart’s electrical activity and can reveal damage from a potential heart attack
- blood tests to check for markers of a heart attack in the blood
Treatment for Heart Attack
Upon arrival in the ER, you will likely receive medications to reduce discomfort and prevent more blood clots from forming. You may also receive oxygen therapy.
Having a heart attack increases your risk for another, so it’s important to make changes to your habits that will benefit your heart.