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What Happens During a Heart Attack?

What Happens During a Heart Attack?

01 Oct 2017 dr. Rini Siallagan Articles 2

According to the WHO, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes are the leading cause of death.  This is especially true in developed countries where there is a higher life expectancy.  Even though infection is the main cause of death in developing countries, cardiovascular disease cases are rising as the life expectancy in developing countries also increase.
When someone hears the words heart attack, fear is truly elicited.  In this article we will explain to you what actually happens during a heart attack.

The heart is an organ that is made of muscle that continuously pumps blood throughout the body through blood vessels in order to supply oxygen and nutrition to the body.  The heart itself needs constant supply of blood and nutrition for it to work properly.  The heart receives its blood supply from vessels called “coronary arteries”.  When problems arise in the coronary arteries, such as narrowing or “stenosis” of the artery, this will decrease the oxygen supply to the heart.

The narrowing of arteries usually happens gradually.  As the vessels become more narrow, symptoms such as chest pain (also called “angina”) may arise.  These chest pains may start when you are exercising or when there is emotional distress and they may be relieved by taking your heart meds or when you rest.  However, as the narrowing worsens and when the vessels are clog up, this is when heart attacks occur.  The typical sensation of a heart attack is when you have a dull crushing pain on the left side of your chest, which may radiate to your left arm or jaw, and your heart meds or resting does not make the symptoms go away.

There are lots of factors that cause the narrowing of your coronary arteries.  Generally speaking, hypertension, diabetes, smoking and having high cholesterol levels damages your coronary arteries.  Over time as damage is done to the arteries, the wall of these arteries becomes stiff and this is called a “plaque”.
As the plaque worsens, the plaque ruptures and a blood clot may appear.  The blood clot clogs up the coronary artery, and this is what causes a heart attack.

Risk Factors
It’s a good idea to know the risk factors for coronary artery disease in order for you to have a healthy heart.  

1.Age
Heart attacks usually happen to the older population, however younger men that have a lot of risk factors may experience a heart attack as young as 25-30 years old.

2.Gender
Women that still have regular menstrual periods rarely have heart attacks as the hormones produced by the body are protective to the vessels.

3.Hypertension

Hypertension causes damage to the blood vessels, which contributes to plaque formation.

4.Diabetes Mellitus
Like hypertension,  constantly having a high blood sugar level also damages the blood vessels.

 
  1. High Cholesterol Level

An increased LDL level (bad cholesterol) and decreased HDL level (good cholesterol) will cause deposition of cholesterol particles in the blood vessel, contributing to plaque formation.

 
  1. Smoking

Smoking produces free radicals that damage blood vessels.

7.Physical Inactivity

Surprise! Exercise is good for your heart.  Being physically active trains your heart muscles.

 
  1. Obesity

Being obese not only increases the chance of you having hypertension, diabetes, and having a high cholesterol level, but itself is a risk factor for coronary artery disease.

 
  1. Emotional Stress

People with type-A personality (overachievers) have a higher risk for heart attacks.  Emotional stress may also trigger the plaque from rupturing creating the clog to your coronary arteries.

 
  1. Alcohol

Although moderate consumption of wine is protective for the heart as it also increases HDL, consuming too much alcohol is not good for your heart.  Alcohol may also cause other heart diseases such as congestive heart failure.

 
  1. An Unbalanced Diet

Fatty food and a diet full of red meat will help contribute to heart problems.

 

Signs and Symptoms

Besides knowing the risk factors of coronary artery diseases and heart attacks, it is also important to recognize the signs of a heart attack in order for you to find prompt treatment as early as possible.

 
  1. Chest pain

The typical chest pain in a heart attack is a dull pain on the left side of your chest, as if someone is sitting on it.  The pain may radiate to your jaw and left arm.  The pain is not relieved by rest or by your prescribed heart medications.

 
  1. Abdominal Discomfort

Some patients may also feel abdominal discomfort as if you are having a reflux disease (heartburn) and fullness.  Be aware that the elderly, women, and diabetics may not experience chest pain but may experience abdominal discomfort when they suffer a heart attack.

 
  1. Anxiety, nausea, vomiting, sweating and feeling dizzy

 
  1. Weakness and shortness of breath

 
  1. Feeling palpitations (irregular heart beats)

 

What Should You Do if You Feel The Signs of a Heart Attack?

 

Call an emergency number and they may dispatch an ambulance to where you are.  If you are near a hospital go to the emergency room straight away.  Time is very important in the management of a heart attack.  The earlier you receive treatment, the higher chance of survival from a heart attack.

 

Once you are in the emergency department, they will monitor your ECG (the electric activities of your heart) and will take blood samples for “cardiac enzymes” which are increased when a heart attack happens.

 

Once the diagnosis of a heart attack is confirmed treatment will begin.  There are a few treatments for heart attacks, namely using “thrombolytic” meds which destroy the clots that is plugging your heart, percutaneous coronary intervention (putting a ring or balloon in your coronary artery to open up the narrowing), coronary artery bypass (which is an open surgery), and conservative management.

 

Prevention

Now you know the risk factors of a heart attack, it is important to maintain that healthy life style.  You may have hypertension and diabetes, but routinely checking up with your doctor and taking the appropriate medications decreases the risk factor for heart attacks.