A heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI) occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the heart muscle is blocked. When that happens, part of the heart tissue dies, which causes what a person feels like pain or discomfort. The most common cause of a heart attack is a blockage of the coronary arteries. These are the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle itself (the myocardium). The coronary arteries become narrowed by atherosclerotic plaque – the 'hardening' of the arteries caused by fatty deposits, hypertension, and smoking.
Signs of a Heart Attack
Signs of a heart attack are often overlooked because it is easy to confuse heart attack symptoms with heartburn or heart muscle pain. Even people who have just had a heart attack say that they ignored the warning signs of the heart attack. But without knowing exactly what to expect when an individual suffers a heart attack, it is not surprising that symptoms are ignored.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
Chest pain or discomfort: This is what most people associate with heart attacks, but there are many heart attack symptoms that don't cause chest pain. However, if an individual has severe chest pain, it is important to know the source so they can get help immediately.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms of a heart attack may include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach; fullness in the center of the chest; and unusual fatigue.
Shortness of breath: Early signs of a heart attack might include an individual not being able to catch their breath. However, shortness of breath can also be a sign of heart failure or pulmonary edema – both caused by heart attacks – so they should seek immediate help if this is happening to them.
Sudden cold sweat: If a person breaks out in cold sweats unexpectedly during heart attack symptoms, it could be a sign that their body is going into shock. Breaking out in a cold sweat is not a heart attack symptom, but it may be heart failure or heart attack related.
Feeling Nauseous: Although heart attack symptoms such as nausea and vomiting are more likely to be caused by the underlying heart condition, heart attacks can cause nausea, especially if there isn't enough blood flow to the heart.
Confusion: Early signs of a heart attack include experiencing confusion and not thinking clearly or remembering things.
Weakness and Fatigue: If a person's heart is not pumping properly, they may feel tired, weak, lightheaded when standing up quickly, or dizzy.
Signs of a heart attack in men often differ from heart attack symptoms in women. Signs of a heart attack in men usually and primarily present themselves as the pressure in the chest, while heart attack symptoms in women vary more from nausea, sweating, vomiting, and pain in areas such as:
Heart Attack Prevention
The first step in heart attack prevention knows the causes of heart attacks. The most common heart attack causes are: