What is a heart attack

What is a heart attack?

Heart attacks are a deadly symptom of cardiovascular disease. A heart attack occurs every twenty seconds in the United States. Over one million people suffer from a heart attack each year.

A heart attack occurs when an artery that supplies blood and oxygen to the heart becomes blocked. This can happen in a couple of ways but both have to do with fatty deposits. Over time, fatty deposits, called plaques, build up on the arteries. If a bit of the plaque breaks off or ruptures, a blood clot can form which then blocks the artery. Fatty deposits can also continue to build up. So much so that the artery narrows and is finally closed off.

One person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Half of these deaths happen within an hour of the heart attack outside the hospital. There is no way to stop a heart attack without emergency assistance. Your best chance for survival, should you find yourself having an attack, is to call an ambulance. Emergency medical technicians are trained to treat heart attacks in the field and can restart the heart should it stop.

Cardiac Arrest

Heart attacks last from two to five minutes if mild or more than twenty minutes if severe. Out of all the heart attacks that happen each year, one out of five victims don’t even know they have experienced a coronary episode. These silent episodes are often mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Someone who has suffered a mild heart attack might feel like they’ve pulled a muscle or feel easily fatigued.

Cardiac arrest symptoms also include:
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Heaviness in the chest
  • Pain in either arm, primarily the left arm in men
  • Sweating without any cause
  • Shortness of breath, without exertion, that worsens when lying down

Unlike the theatrical version of a heart attack, clutching at the chest and gasping for air, women experience heart attacks differently than men. The signs are subtle and are often mistaken for something simple like acid reflux or a slight case of the flu. Other signs of a heart attack in women include:

  • Unusual fatigue with disturbed sleep
  • Pain in upper or lower back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Interesting note: heart attacks that happen in the morning are more severe.

Recovering from a heart attack

Once you’ve had a heart attack you’re at a greater risk for another. Most people survive their first heart attack and go on to have productive lives. So it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice regarding medication and lifestyle changes.

Each medication is prescribed for a specific purpose. These include medications that thin the blood, making it easier to travel through your arteries, and medications to help keep blood pressure in check. You may also be told to take aspirin, or another similar medication, to help prevent blood clots. There is also medication that helps open arteries narrowed by plaque deposits.

After a heart attack, you may also experience anxiety and fear about having another one. You may have bouts of sadness or depression. Your mental health is as important as your physical health, so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about any feelings you may have, especially if these emotions begin to affect your ability to function on a daily basis. Help and support is available.

Lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your recovery and how you feel overall. These changes include:

Getting back to normal life after a heart attack may seem daunting. There will be many changes. By following the guidance of your healthcare team, you’ll be heading in the right direction.