A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI), is a clinical condition that needs immediate medical attention. The heart muscles cannot grow and regenerate. Once damaged, we lose a chunk of muscle forever. This compromises the performance of the heart and affects daily activity. Treatment of a heart attack should begin as early as possible. It is more important to prevent this dreadful condition.
A heart attack is essentially caused by paucity of blood flow to the heart muscles. This happens due to a blockage in the ‘coronary arteries’, the vessels that supply blood to the heart. If not restored quickly, the heart muscles begin to die as these are deprived of oxygen which is required for the incessant beating of the heart.
The blockage is caused by chemically altered fats and debris, cholesterol and calcium deposited along the walls of the blood vessels. These deposits are called atherosclerotic plaques and narrow the lumen of the vessel.
The blocked vessels are hardened. This resultant condition is called coronary artery disease. The plaques may rupture and clots may then form on their surfaces. These clots can be released to further block the smaller vessels.
Another less common cause of heart attack is the spasm or tightening of the coronary arteries. Spasms can occur in people both with and without coronary artery disease. Spasms can completely or partially decrease blood flow to the heart muscle. Spasms can be caused by reaction to emotional stress, exposure to extreme cold, smoking, or by certain drugs like cocaine. Be it a spasm or a plaque, both compromise blood supply to the heart muscles.
The symptoms of a heart attack can range from deceptively trivial to evidently severe or may be absent altogether, making it a silent attack. This makes the condition difficult to confirm and recognize. The most typical and evident manifestation of a heart attack is a chest pain or discomfort that can be felt as squeezing, fullness or pressure in the left chest or in the center of the chest.
Shortness of breath may or may not follow or accompany the chest discomfort. The discomfort need not always be localized to the chest. It can be felt in one or both arms, neck, jaw, stomach, or back.
One may experience only lightheadedness, fainting, cold sweat, vomiting, or a sensation of vomiting. Women are more likely to experience the subtle and atypical symptoms of heart attack. This is because the blockage in women may not alone be in the major big coronary vessels but may even be found in the smaller branches of the vessels. The symptoms may be related to activity; they can occur on exertion and can be relieved by rest.
As soon as you suspect a heart attack, seek emergency care. Call an ambulance and reach a proper medical care facility without much delay. If you have been a known patient of heart problems, your doctor would have prescribed a nitroglycerin tablet or spray.
Nitroglycerine will relax the constricting vessels and improve blood flow to and from the heart. Take a dose and relax. Avoid heavy activity
There are modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for coronary artery disease and heart attack. The modifiable ones are:
The lipid profile describes the types and quantities of fats in the blood. Some like cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are ‘bad’ lipids and high density lipoprotein (HDL) is ‘good’ lipid. Aim to keep all the types of lipids in the normal ranges. Diabetes or high blood sugar is also a modifiable risk factor for heart attack.
The non-modifiable factors include,
Men older than 45 years and women older than 55 years are at a greater risk for heart attack. You stand a greater risk if one of your family members also has been diagnosed the same condition. Males have a greater risk than females.
One may have more than one risk factor. In this case, it is called a metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart attacks. The commonest combination is that of an elevated waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood glucose.
To prevent a heart attack, you should lower the risk factors for coronary artery disease. Even if you have the sings of heart attack and have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, you can lower the risk for a heart attack. It all begins with adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Many medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise. If these are not enough, you may need medication. Be regular to take all your medications.
Once you have had a heart attack, you may be at risk of a second one. The symptoms of the second attack may not be similar to the first one. To keep your heart healthy and prevent further damage to your heart, adopt a healthy lifestyle.