Heart attack – Symptoms and causes

Overview Heart attack is,   A heart attack is caused when the blood supply to the heart is blocked. The blockage is most frequently a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that nourish the heart (coronary arteries). The plaque eventually breaks away and creates a clot. The […]


Heart attack is,


A heart attack is caused when the blood supply to the heart is blocked. The blockage is most frequently a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that nourish the heart (coronary arteries).

The plaque eventually breaks away and creates a clot. The obstructed blood flow can damage or destroy a part of the heart muscle.

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, can be deadly. But, treatments have been improved substantially over the years. It’s crucial that you seek immediate medical assistance or call 911 if you suspect that you are having a heart attack.

Heart attack & Stroke

A heart attack happens when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, generally by a blood clot. Without oxygenated blood, the heart muscle begins to die.

A stroke is a brain attack, cutting off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain. A stroke happens when a blood vessel nourishing the brain gets clogged or bursts.

Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of heart attack / MI / Myocardial Infarction

Common heart attack signs and symptoms include:

  • Pressure, firmness, pain, squeezing or aching perception in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
  • Dyspnea
  • Cold sweat
  • Exhaustion
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness

Heart attack symptoms/warning signs of a heart attack in women

  • Pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest. It may last more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest pain.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
  • Women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort which is the same as with men. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Heart attack symptoms vary

Not all people who have heart attacks have similar symptoms or have the same gravity of symptoms. Some people have mild pain while others have more acute pain.

Some people show no symptoms while for some, the first sign may be immediate cardiac arrest. However, the more signs and symptoms you have, the greater the odds you’re having a heart attack.

Some heart attacks strike abruptly, but many people experience caution signs and symptoms; hours, days, or weeks in advance. Repetitive chest pain or pressure (angina) that’s precipitated by exertion and mitigated by rest, might be the earliest signs of a heart attack. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.

Heart attack chest pain

Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This is the most common symptom of a heart attack.

Jaw pain heart attack

Jaw pain is an identical symptom most commonly seen in women with heart attack conditions.

The pain is sometimes sudden and can wake you up at night. You may feel the pain that is specific to the left, lower side of the jaw.

Neck pain heart attack

Neck pain is also a common symptom of a heart attack. Protect your heart by identifying when your neck pain is more than a temporary strain and might be due to a problem with your heart.

Post heart attack symptoms

  • Chest pain (angina).
  • Tightness or pressure in your arms, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting.
  • Pale, sweaty skin.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Swelling or pain in your legs.
  • Sudden fatigue.

I am having a heart attack – Heart attack treatment at home

Act instantly. Some people take the time to take necessary actions because they do not identify the important signs and symptoms. Take the following steps in case if you feel like you are having an attack:

  • Call emergency medical assistance. If you think you’re having a heart attack, don’t delay. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If you cannot approach emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital.

Drive yourself only if there are no other alternatives since your state can worsen and puts you and others at risk.

  • Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed to you by a doctor. Take it as directed while awaiting emergency assistance.
  • Take aspirin, if recommended. Taking aspirin during a heart attack could minimize heart damage by helping to avoid your blood from coagulating.

Aspirin can interact with other medications. However, do not take an aspirin unless your doctor or emergency medical personnel instruct you to. Do not hesitate to call 911 to take an aspirin.

What to do if you see someone who might be having a heart attack

If you come across someone whom you believe is having a heart attack, reach for emergency medical assistance first. Then, inspect if the person is breathing and has a pulse. You should only begin CPR if the person isn’t breathing or if you don’t find a pulse to keep the blood flowing.

Push hard and fast on the person’s chest in a fairly rapid rhythm — about 100 to 120 compressions a minute.

It is recommended to carry out only chest compressions if you haven’t been trained in CPR. If you have had CPR training, you can go ahead and open the airway and rescue breathing.

Types of heart attacks

There are three types of heart attacks including,

  • ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)

STEMI occurs when a coronary artery becomes completely blocked and a large portion of the muscle stops receiving blood. It’s a serious heart attack that can cause significant damage.

  • Non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI)

The coronary artery is only partially blocked in an NSTEMI. An NSTEMI won’t show any change in the ST segment on the electrocardiogram.

Coronary angiography will show the degree to which the artery is blocked. A blood test will also show elevated troponin protein levels. While there may be less heart damage, an NSTEMI is still a serious condition.

  • Coronary spasm or unstable angina

Coronary spasm is also known as unstable angina or silent heart attack. The symptoms, which can be the same as a STEMI heart attack, may be mistaken for muscle pain, indigestion, and more. It occurs when one of the heart’s arteries tightens in a way that blood flow stops or becomes drastically reduced. Only imaging and blood test results can tell your doctor if you’ve had a silent heart attack.

There is no permanent damage during a coronary artery spasm. Although silent heart attacks aren’t as serious, they do increase your risk of another heart attack or one that may be more serious.

Silent heart attack symptoms

  • Chest Pain, Pressure, Fullness or Discomfort
  • Discomfort in other areas of your body
  • Difficulty breathing and dizziness
  • Nausea and cold sweats

Young heart attack

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a common cause of heart attacks in young people including young athletes and is usually inherited.

About 4% of heart attacks in young adults are triggered by inborn abnormalities of the coronary artery anatomy. 5% can be attributed to blood clots that originate elsewhere and are carried in the bloodstream to otherwise normal coronary arteries, where they block the artery. And in another 5%, various disorders of the blood clotting system increase the risk of clot formation throughout the circulatory system, including in coronary arteries.

A wide range of problems accounts for the remaining 6% of heart attacks in young adults. They include spasm or inflammation of the coronary arteries, radiation therapy for chest tumors, chest trauma, and abuse of cocaine, amphetamines, or other drugs.

Tests for heart attack

You can complete the following tests to diagnose or to keep a track on your heart attack condition;

  • Chest X-ray. An X-ray image of your chest allows your doctor to check the size of your heart and its blood vessels
  • Echocardiogram
  • Coronary catheterization (angiogram)
  • Exercise stress test
  • Cardiac CT or MRI


A heart attack happens when one or more of your coronary arteries become blocked. Over time, a coronary artery can become slender due to the buildup of various substances like cholesterol (atherosclerosis). This state, which is known as coronary artery disease, causes most heart attacks.

During a heart attack, one of these plaques can break or burst and spill cholesterol and other substances into the bloodstream. A blood clot creates at the site of the rupture. The larger clot can obstruct the flow of blood through the coronary artery, avoiding the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle (ischemia).

You might have a complete blockage or partial. A complete blockage means you have had an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). A partial blockage means you have had a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). Diagnostic steps and treatment might vary depending on the type of attack you’ve had.

Another reason for a heart attack is a spasm of a coronary artery that shuts down blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. Using tobacco and illicit drugs such as cocaine can cause a life-threatening convulsion.

Stress heart attack

Continual stress has been connected with higher activity in an area of the brain involved in processing emotions, and an increased likelihood of developing heart and circulatory disease. The researchers suggest that stress could be as important as other risk factors like smoking or high blood pressure.

Risk factors

Certain factors contribute to the unwanted buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) that narrows arteries throughout your body. You can develop or eradicate many of these risk factors to lower your odds of having a first or another heart attack.

Heart attack risk factors include:

  • Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.
  • Smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • High blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that nourish your heart. High blood pressure that occurs with other conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol, or diabetes improves your risk even more.
  • High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries. A high level of triglycerides, a type of blood fat related to your diet, also ups your odds of a heart attack. However, a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) can decrease your risk of a heart attack.
  • Obesity can cause high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. However, losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lower this risk.
  • The lack of insulin produced by the pancreas or not responding to insulin properly results in your body’s blood sugar levels to rise, increasing your chances of a heart attack.
  • Metabolic syndrome. This happens when you have obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Having metabolic syndrome makes you twice as likely to improve heart disease than when you don’t have it.
  • Family history of a heart attack. You might be at a higher risk if your siblings, parents, or grandparents have had early heart attacks (by age 55 for male relatives and by age 65 for female relatives).
  • Lack of physical activity. Being idle and less active contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity. People who exercise regularly have better cardiovascular fitness and lower high blood pressure.
  • You might respond to stress in ways that can increase your chances of a heart attack.
  • Illicit drug use. Using stimulant drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines can precipitate a spasm of your coronary arteries that can result in a heart attack.
  • A history of preeclampsia. This condition results in high blood pressure during pregnancy and increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
  • An autoimmune condition. Having a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase your risk of heart attack


Complications are generally determined by the damage done to your heart during an attack, which can lead to:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Electrical “short circuits” can develop, causing abnormal heart rhythms, of which some can be severe or even fatal.
  • Heart failure. An attack might damage a lot of heart tissue that the remaining heart muscle becomes unable to pump enough blood out of your heart. Heart failure can be temporary or it can be a chronic condition caused by extensive and permanent damage to your heart.

Sudden cardiac arrest. Your heart stops without caution due to an electrical disturbance resulting in arrhythmia. Heart attacks improve the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, which can be fatal without immediate treatment


Although you might have had a heart attack once before, you are never too late to take prevention steps. Here are ways to avoid a heart attack.

  • Taking medications can lower your risk of a subsequent heart attack and help your damaged heart function better. Continue to take the medication prescribed by your doctor and get monitored as per your doctor’s instructions.
  • Lifestyle factors. Maintain a healthy weight with a heart-healthy diet, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, manage stress and control conditions that can cause heart attacks such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

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