Health & Personal Care

Heart attack – Symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatments and more

Heart attack – Symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatments and more

A condition identified by a dysfunctional or dead heart muscle segment, caused due to loss of blood supply is referred to as a heart attack. The supply of blood is commonly lost as a result of a blockage in an artery due to a blood clot. When the heart muscle is dead, there is an electrical instability of heart muscle tissue and the person suffers from severe pain in the chest. Men over the age of 45 and women above 55 are at a higher risk of suffering from heart attacks.

Symptoms and complications
A feeling of pressure or pain in the chest are the most common symptoms associated with a heart attack. However, depending on person-to-person, the symptoms can vary. These can include:

  • A feeling of fullness, pain, or squeezing occurring in the chest
  • Pain in the jaws, tooth, and a headache
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Discomfort in the upper middle portion of the abdomen, which is also known as general epigastric
  • Indigestion with heartburn
  • Sweating
  • Pain in the upper back area
  • An inexplicable feeling of being sick

Around one-fourth of the heart attacks come without causing any symptoms and are silent. This is common in patients who suffer from diabetes mellitus. Even though in some cases, no or very mild symptoms of a heart attack can be noticed, the condition can still prove to be as life-threatening as the heart attacks that cause symptoms such as chest pain. It is extremely common for patients to confuse the symptoms of heart attack with stress, fatigue, or indigestion. Hence, the symptoms are often neglected, delaying the diagnosis and treatment process. However, it is extremely important to seek medical attention immediately if any symptom, associated with a heart attack can be noticed. While timely diagnosis and treatment can save a person’s life, any delay in getting medical attention can prove to be fatal. Other than being life-threatening, an untreated heart attack can also lead to permanent damage to the heart muscle and impaired functioning of the heart.

Heart attack symptoms in women
Identifying a heart attack in women can be more difficult in women than men. This is because of various reasons which include:

  • Women show atypical symptoms of heart attack, which include pain in the neck and shoulders, pain in the abdomen area, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.
  • Women commonly have silent heart attacks, which means there will be no or very mild symptoms.
  • Women experience chest pain more commonly than men. Mostly this chest pain is not caused by a heart attack.
  • Women’s ECG findings are less likely to show the usual findings of a heart attack; this can make the diagnosis of a heart attack much more difficult in them.

Because of atypical symptoms and problems with diagnosing a heart attack in women, women might not get the right treatments like coronary angioplasty or thrombotic therapy. They might not be taken to the unit specially designed for coronary problems.

Complications associated with heart attacks
Various complications can be caused due to a heart attack. These include:

  • Heart failure
    Due to impaired heart muscles, the functionality of the heart to pump blood to the body is lost. This leads to heart failure. Consequently, retention of fluid in the organs starts taking place and they stop functioning.
  • Ventricular fibrillation
    Ventricular fibrillation can be caused by a heart muscle injury. It is often a result of the replacement of the regular contraction of the heart muscle caused due to electrical activation by an abnormal activity, which stops the heart from beating and supplying blood to parts of the body, including the brain. This can cause permanent damage to the brain. It can also prove to be fatal if the flow of blood to the brain is not restarted in minutes.

In most cases, the deaths associated with heart attacks take place when a patient goes into ventricular fibrillation and does not make it to the hospital in time. However, patients who make it to the emergency room, have a high survival chance. With the modern treatment options, the survival rate in cases of a heart attack has gone beyond 90 percent.

Various causes can lead to a heart attack. These include:

A process in which deposits of cholesterol gradually start accumulating on the walls of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis. These deposits of cholesterol cause the arterial walls to harden and the lumen of the artery to narrow down. When the arteries become narrow, atherosclerosis is not able to supply a sufficient amount of blood to various parts of the body to let them perform their normal function. Like, if atherosclerosis occurs in the arteries of the legs, it leads to an insufficient supply of blood to legs. This reduces blood flow and can eventually lead to pain while exercising or walking, ulcers, or a slowed healing process of wounds in the legs. If atherosclerosis occurs in the arteries of the brain, it can cause vascular dementia or stroke.

There can be many cases in which atherosclerosis causes damage silently, without any symptoms for years. In some cases, atherosclerosis can start during the early teenage years. However, its symptoms can only be noticed during adulthood years, when the arteries start to narrow down. Several factors can accelerate the process of atherosclerosis. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking, and diabetes mellitus. These factors are known to start the symptoms of atherosclerosis early, especially in people who come from a family of atherosclerosis patients.

Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary atherosclerosis, is a condition in which coronary arteries harden or become narrow. It is also caused as a result of a reduced supply of blood to the heart muscles. Conditions that come under the coronary heart diseases are heart attacks, angina chest pain, disorders with heart rhythms, unexpected death, and heart failure.

Angina pectoris
Angina, also known as angina pectoris, is characterized by pressure or pain in the chest. This is caused due to a reduced supply of oxygen and blood to the heart muscle. When the coronary arteries are narrowed by over 50 to 70 percent, they might not be able to supply an increased amount of blood to the heart muscle when you exercise or times when the body needs a high amount of oxygen. When there is a reduced flow of oxygen to the heart muscle, it can lead to angina.

  • Exertional angina
    When angina is caused due to exertion or exercise, it is known as exertional angina. In some cases, especially in patients with diabetes, the decreased flow of blood to the heart might not cause any pain, it may just cause breathlessness or early onset of fatigue.

Due to exertional angina, the patient can experience heaviness, pressure, ache, or squeezing in the chest. This pain can travel and affect the jaws, the back, the neck, and the teeth. There can also be several other symptoms accompanied by the pain, and these include breathlessness, cold sweat, or nausea. The symptoms of exertional angina last anywhere between one and 15 minutes, they usually go away with rest or with medication. With this, the high demand for oxygen by the heart muscle is brought down. However, exertional angina should be taken seriously since it can be one of the first warning signs of coronary heart disease that has advanced. Chest pains that do not last more than a couple of seconds are usually not caused due to coronary artery disease.

  • Variant angina
    Other than exertional angina, the chest pain can also be caused while you are at rest. But when angina occurs at rest, it could mean that the narrowing of the coronary artery has reached a critical level and enough oxygen is not being supplied to the heart even when your body is at rest. If the pain is not frequent, it can be due to spasms occurring in the coronary artery. This condition is known as variant angina. There is no permanent damage to the heart with either type of angina. However, it can be an early warning of a heart attack that can take place in the future.

Treatment options
Getting quick medical attention is important for a person when he has a heart attack. The sooner they can get medical attention, the higher the chances of survival. Modern technology in the field of medicine has made the treatment for heart attacks more effective. If there is a history of heart attacks, the treatment plans should be discussed thoroughly with the doctor.

Treatment options during an attack
In some cases, during a heart attack, a person can stop breathing. In this situation, the first treatment to be given is CPR, which is cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The process needs to be started at the earliest, and it comprises the following steps:

  • Giving chest compressions manually
  • Defibrillation

Treatment options post an attack
After a heart attack, several treatments or medicines will be given to the patient. It is done with a motive of preventing any heart attacks from occurring in the future. The treatment options can include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Statins
  • An angioplasty
  • A coronary artery bypass graft
  • Aspirin along with some other antiplatelets

Who is at risk?
Several factors can increase the chances of a person having a heart attack. Some of these are beyond your control, such as family history and age. The other factors are within your control, and they can be managed.

Uncontrollable risk factors

  • Age: People with over 65 years of age are at a greater risk of suffering from a heart attack.
  • Gender: Men are at a greater risk as compared to women.
  • Family history: If conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart diseases run in the family, the person is at a higher risk of suffering from a heart attack.

Controllable risk factors

  • Smoking habits
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Poor diet
  • Stress levels
  • Little or no exercise

A heart attack is diagnosed by a doctor once they have performed an examination and checked the patient’s medical history. In most cases, an ECG (electrocardiogram) is conducted to examine the electrical activity of the heart. A blood sample will also be collected to run some tests to check for any damage to the heart muscle.

Dietary recommendations
To keep the heart healthy, it is essential to give the body all the nutrition that it deserves. A healthy diet can play a vital role in preventing coronary artery disease and even heart attacks. A diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains is considered perfect for maintaining heart health.

Having omega-3 fatty acids at least two times a week is also recommended by the American Heart Association. This fatty acid can bring down the chances of heart-related disease. If your diet does not provide you with enough omega-3 fatty acids, you can also consider taking supplements. However, make sure you consult your doctor before starting the supplements. High doses can lead to bleeding. If you suffer from a bleeding disorder or get bruised easily, take precautions while consuming these supplements. You also need to avoid processed foods and a diet, which is high in fat and sugar content.

Now that you have complete knowledge about the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, treatments, and other aspects related to heart attacks, take proactive measures in case of an emergency.

Editors Choice