What is a heart attack?
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction (MI), is what happens when one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart gets blocked. When this happens, the part of the heart that normally gets blood from that artery is damaged. The arteries that supply blood to the heart are called the “coronary arteries.”
Heart attacks are usually the result of a condition called coronary artery disease. In this disease, fatty deposits called plaques form on the walls of the coronary arteries. These plaques sometimes break open and cause blood clots to form. Then the blood clot can block off the artery and keep blood from reaching parts of the heart muscle. That is what causes most heart attacks.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
Patients will experience:
- Pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest
- Pain, tingling, or discomfort in other parts of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting, burping, or heartburn
- Sweating or cold, clammy skin
- A racing or uneven heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
*If you think you might be having a heart attack, call an ambulance immediately.
Is there a test for heart attacks?
Yes. If your doctor thinks you are having a heart attack, he will order 1 or more of these tests:
An electrocardiogram (ECG)— This test measures the electrical activity in your heart. Blood tests — During a heart attack, the heart releases certain chemicals. If these chemicals are in your blood, it might mean you are having a heart attack.
Cardiac catheterization— Cardiac (heart) catheterization or coronary angiography. During this test, the doctor inserts a thin plastic tube into a large artery in your leg and threads it up to your heart. Then the doctor injects a dye into the tube that shows up on an x-ray. This dye will show whether any of the arteries in your heart are clogged.
How is a heart attack treated?
If you go to the hospital while you are having a heart attack, the doctors and nurses will:
- Give you oxygen through a mask or a tube in your nose. This can help reduce the damage caused by a heart attack.
- Give you pain medicines to ease the chest pain and discomfort of a heart attack. They might also give you something to help you relax.
- Try to get the blood flowing again through the clogged artery.
For an uncomplicated heart attack, you will likely stay in the hospital between 3 and 5 days.