A heart attack or myocardial infarction is when the oxygen that gets to the heart muscle decreases, causing pain and muscle destruction.
Cardiovascular diseases are the most common causes of death globally. It is very worrying for health professionals since it is a preventable disease and yet has a big weight on health systems. Through different education methods on healthy lifestyle choices and making it economically easier for the population to do so, this disease’s deaths can decrease its numbers.
For more information on its symptoms, causes, and treatment, continue reading this article.
What happens during a heart attack?
A heart attack is when the heart muscle suffers from a lack of oxygen that leads to the tissue’s death. Health professionals also know it as a myocardial infarction. Oxygen is normally transported through the bloodstream by red blood cells to the heart tissue without trouble. In this case, the blood flow to heart tissue heavily decreases because of different causes, producing a heart attack.
The major cause of this blood flow reduction to the heart is because of an obstruction in a coronary artery. There are two main coronary arteries which then branch out into two more. These are in charge of supplying blood to the heart; therefore, they are very important.
Arteries can suffer from a plaque buildup, which is an accumulation of cholesterol in their walls. This accumulation causes the arteries to get narrower and block the blood flow to the heart muscle. Also, these bigger walls can break and cause blood clots, blocking smaller arteries further on the way. Blood clots can go to arteries in the brain as well, causing strokes.
People can survive a heart attack, still depending on the severity and the place it occurs, a heart attack can cause various complications. For example, it can cause atrial fibrillation or ventricular fibrillation. These are diseases in which the heart loses its rhythm and can be very dangerous.
What are the signs of a heart attack? What does a heart attack feel like?
Heart attack symptoms can vary from one person to another. The most common symptom is pain. Doctors call it retro-sternal pain because it happens behind the breastbone (sternum). This is the long bone in the middle of the chest that resembles a sword.
In some cases, it does not appear properly as pain. It is more similar to a chest discomfort in the center of the chest or slightly to the left. Another name this pain has is “angina.” In a sudden cardiac arrest, symptoms can come very quickly and be quite painful. In other cases, the heart attack can happen slower and more progressive than the previous.
Patients describe the discomfort as pressure, squeeze, ache or burn. When the pain appears, it usually is very intense and lasts between 30-60 minutes. Besides in the chest, pain can also appear in the neck, the jaw, the left shoulder, or the left arm.
Some patients may have a difficult time recognizing the chest pain. It is usual for people who have a high pain tolerance. This situation can make the diagnosis a bit more difficult for physicians. Other patients with diabetes mellitus can have nervous problems that impair their chest pain sensation. It is important to take special care of patients with dementia or other altered mental status because they may appear with no complaints.
Patients can experience anxiety, lightheadedness, fainting, excessive sweating, and rapid heartbeats other than the typical chest pain. Respiratory symptoms like cough and shortness of breath are also common in some patients. However, cough and shortness of breath alone do not usually make physicians suspect of a heart attack. Finally, nausea, a feeling of fullness, or indigestion can also be symptoms of a heart attack, but not very commonly.
Panic attack or heart attack?
Before differentiating between one condition and the other, let’s define what a panic attack is.
Panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder. Worry and fear are normal emotions that protect humans from potentially dangerous situations. Nevertheless, during a panic attack, a rush of emotions with mostly fear appears in a person without a potentially dangerous situation.
Most of the symptoms that appear during a panic attack can also be present during a heart attack. Rapid heartbeats, excessive sweating, fainting, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, nausea, and indigestion commonly present in panic attacks. Even chest pain can appear during a panic attack.
When this happens, tests help doctors differentiate between the two situations. However, panic attacks can present with other symptoms that usually don’t exist during a heart attack. These are tremors, chills, numbness, or uncomfortable sensations in the fingertips. These symptoms are more associated with the nervous component of a panic attack. Another helpful characteristic to differentiate both situations is the duration. Most panic attacks take between 5 and 20 minutes, while heart attack symptoms are usually longer.
Most people with panic attacks, and those who surround them, learn to identify the condition. Panic attacks cause no physical harm and do not require immediate treatment, unlike heart attacks that can be life-threatening.
Many professionals can provide different types of help to deal with panic attacks and other anxiety disorders. Management and control of this condition are very important.
How is a heart attack diagnosed?
First care providers will inquire about the signs of a heart attack. They would also perform a physical exam and test vital signs, such as blood pressure, heartbeat, respiratory rate, and temperature. It’s important to know if the patient has high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol level, or a previous heart problem.
The doctor can then prescribe additional tests, such as an electrocardiogram or EKG. With this quick and painless test, in which providers connect electrodes to the chest and limbs, they can check the heart muscles’ damage and what area is affected. All this by monitoring electrical signals as they flow through the heart.
Doctors will also demand various blood tests, among them the measurement of cardiac enzymes. The increase in these enzymes can signify damage to the heart muscle. They are normally within the heart’s cell that releases them into the circulation after heart attacks. Troponin I is the gold standard for diagnosing myocardial infarction because it is the most accurate blood test. This enzyme’s levels rise within 2 to 4 hours after the infraction and then return to normal levels by seven days.
Another important marker is the creatine kinase MB or CK-MB. The levels increase between 4 to 6 hours after the injury and return to normal by 72 hours. For that reason, it is a useful tool for detecting a heart attack that could occur days after.
Doctors may need extra checks, such as echocardiography. This exam uses sound waves to produce images of the beating heart. This examination reveals how the heart pumps and which parts aren’t pumping properly.
How is a heart attack treated?
The treatment for a heart attack after admission to the emergency room on many factors. Because a heart attack is a life-threatening disease, it is important to get the patient to the hospital quickly.
To begin, healthcare providers must give aspirin tablets to the patient as soon as symptoms appear. Aspirin acts as an antiplatelet agent, reducing blood clotting and allowing blood to flow through the narrowed arteries.
To dilate the arteries in the heart, doctors may prescribe nitroglycerin. This drug will help increase blood supply to the heart by expanding the blood vessels. Besides the above, the patient would receive oxygen via a mask during the process.
If a heart attack is a STEMI or an NSTEMI, it determines the treatment choices. These are types of heart attacks based on characteristics in the EKG. Doctors will perform emergency surgery to unblock the coronary artery in the case of STEMI. The treatment is also determined according to when the symptoms began and how quickly they receive the treatment.
The surgeon will conduct a primary percutaneous coronary surgery (PCI) if symptoms have begun within the last 12 hours. PCI is a method that involves placing a thin structure called a stent into blood vessels in the heart using a catheter. When signs occur within the last 12 hours, but PCI is not available immediately, the patient would receive clot-busting drugs.
Thrombolytics, also known as fibrinolytic, are drugs that clinicians use to remove blood clots. These drugs help in the removal of a blocked blood supply. The earlier you have a thrombolytic during a Heart attack, the more likely you will survive and get less heart damage. Many patients will need coronary surgery if this therapy is not started right after a heart attack.
What surgical treatments are available for it?
PCI is the term used to describe STEMI emergency treatment for coronary angioplasty, as previously stated. Since the body is not torn open, it represents a minimally invasive technique. Also, it ranges from 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
Coronary angioplasty is a procedure for reopening blocked coronary arteries. Under X-ray supervision, specialists thread a catheter, a special thin tube, into the heart through a blood vessel in the arm or groin. This catheter contains a balloon, which doctors inflate once it is in place. The balloon widens closed blood vessel regions with reduced or halted blood flow. Then, they insert a stent, or adjustable metal wire, to keep the artery clear and reduce the risk of another blockage.
Coronary angiography, a procedure that uses a special dye and x-rays to see how blood passes into the arteries, is normally done first. This allows doctors to see the location and degree of blockage in the coronary arteries.
If coronary angioplasty is not an option, doctors may perform coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) or cardiac bypass surgery. It’s one of the safest and successful ways to deal with a blood clot in the heart muscle. They provide a bypass between the aorta and the coronary artery above and below the narrowed or blocked area by using a branch of an artery or vein from another region of the body, such as the chest or leg, to provide an alternate route for blood flow between the aorta and the coronary artery above and below the narrowed or blocked area.
How do you prevent heart attacks?
Preventing heart disease involves lifestyle changes to minimize or remove all modifiable risk factors for the disorder.
Quitting smoking is one of the most significant moves. Tabaquism is a frequent cause of cardiovascular disease. This practice damages the cells that line the blood vessels and promotes the accumulation of fat and other substances within them. It can also induce high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, stroke, cancer, and other diseases. It is also important to prevent excessive alcohol consumption.
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart failure and stroke; thus, it is important to prevent or control this disease by avoiding a high-salt diet and taking medications as recommended by physicians.
The amount and quantity of food intake also determine other controllable risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. It is beneficial to choose a diet that emphasizes greens, herbs, and whole grains. As well as low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, nontropical vegetable oils, and nuts, while limiting chocolate, sugar-sweetened drinks, and red meat consumption.
To maintain a healthier weight, make sure your diet and physical activity levels are in sync. This way, you’re burning as many calories as you’re consuming. Physicians recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. All of this improves heart health for most people. For heart attack patients, there is cardiac rehabilitation, in which they do physical activity at moderate levels for their safety.
According to research, there is a correlation between coronary heart disease risk and stress. People who are under lots of pressure, for example, can overeat, start smoking or smoke more than they usually will. According to studies, the stress response in young people could predict the likelihood of elevated blood pressure in middle age.
Do you have these symptoms?
This tool is a Heart Attack Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for the disease. Therefore, the tool will tell anybody who uses it the likelihood of their symptoms because of a heart attack. Using the tool is free and would only take a few minutes.