Heart Attack: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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A women in the park calling for help because she suspects that the man inside her have a heart attack

1Overview

The heart works by pumping blood throughout the body to supply the needed oxygen and nutrients to the various cells. Without oxygen, the cells will die and may cause necrosis, in some cases, serious complications.

However, just like all the cells in the body, the heart muscles need oxygen to work properly, too. When the blood flow to the heart is impeded, it may lead to cell death.
As a result, the heart will stop pumping and the person will die.

This is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction. A heart attack happens when the blood flow to the heart is blocked, because of fat and cholesterol build-up.
These substances form plaque in the arteries, blocking the flood from reaching the cells in the heart muscle.

A heart attack is potentially-fatal but treatment has improved over the past years.
If someone has a heart attack, prompt and immediate treatment is vital to save his or her life. Thus, detecting the warning signs of a heart attack is crucial.

Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases account for about 801,000 deaths in the United States, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports. An estimated 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease every day, which is equivalent to one death every 40 seconds.

Heart disease remains to be the number one cause of death in the United States. Specifically, 790,000 people in the United States have heart attacks every year, and of those patients, an estimated 114,000 will die.

2Symptoms

The warning signs and symptoms of heart attack include:

Chest pain or discomfort – Tightness, pressure, and pain in the chest, which radiates to the arms, neck, back or jaw. The pain is felt in the center or left side of the chest.

Shortness of breath – This is one of the symptoms commonly felt by people with heart attack. This may occur before the chest pain starts.

The other symptoms include:

However, not all people have the same symptoms of heart attack. Some people may just experience mild pain while others may experience more severe pain. Some heart attacks may also happen suddenly while others may have the symptoms build up slowly.

When to seek medical help

A heart attack is fatal if it’s not treated immediately. When you are experiencing a heart attack or you see someone who is having one, act immediately and call for emergency help.

3Causes

Heart attacks are caused by a blockage in the blood supply to the heart. Without the proper blood supply, the heart muscles may become damaged and eventually die. Without proper and immediate treatment, the heart muscles may have irreversible damage.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) – Coronary heart disease (CHD) can lead to the blood vessels becoming narrow because of the various substances such as cholesterol.
This accumulation is called atherosclerosis. This is the leading cause of heart attacks and it’s the most common cause of blood vessels being clogged up.

Before a heart attack, the plaque bursts, leading to the formation of a blood clot that will block the supply of blood to the heart. Another cause of heart attack is a spasm of the coronary artery. The most common risk factors of CHD include a high-fat diet, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and being overweight or obese.

4Risk Factors

Some factors that may increase the risk of developing a heart disease that may lead to a heart attack. These include:

  • Age – When a person is more than 45 years old for men and more than 55 years old in women, the risk of having a heart attack becomes higher.
  • Angina – A person who has angina, a type of condition that causes chest pain, may eventually lead to a heart attack if it’s not treated immediately. This is because the lack of oxygen causes the condition.
  • Diabetes People who have diabetes are more likely to have a heart disease.
  • High cholesterol levels – People with high cholesterol levels are at a higher risk of developing heart diseases.
  • Diet – Consuming high amounts of saturated fats may lead to a heart attack
  • Genetics – Some people whose family members had a heart attack are more likely to suffer from one.
  • Heart surgery – People who had a heart surgery are more likely to suffer from a heart attack.
  • High blood pressure – High blood pressure causes damage to the arteries, making them prone to an aneurysm and other vascular problems.
  • Obesity – Being obese or overweight increases the risk of having heart problems
  • Previous heart attack – Having a previous heart attack may increase the risk of having another one.
  • Smoking – Cigarette smoking has been linked to developing cardiovascular diseases.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)People with HIV have a 50 percent higher risk of having a heart attack.
  • Stress at work – People with stressful working environments may have an increased risk of having a heart attack.
  • Lack of physical activity – Being sedentary or an inactive lifestyle may lead to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity.
  • Illegal drug use – Using stimulant drugs like amphetamines and cocaine can trigger a spasm in the coronary arteries, which could lead to a heart attack.
  • History of autoimmune condition – Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other autoimmune diseases may have a higher risk of developing a heart attack.
  • History of preeclampsia – This condition may increase the risk of a heart attack in a lifetime.

5Complications

Having a heart attack may lead to serious complications:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmias) – An arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat that can develop after a heart attack as a result of damage to the heart muscles. When the heart muscles are damaged, the electrical signals in the heart becomes disrupted. Some types of arrhythmias can be fatal.
  • Heart failure – Heart failure can occur when the heart is unable to effectively pump the blood throughout the body. An attack may damage the heart muscles, making the remaining functional ones unable to pump blood.
  • Valve problems – The heart valves may become damaged during a heart attack. This will cause severe leakage problems.
  • Heart rupture – Heart rupture happens when some areas of the heart become weak due to a heart attack. This area may rupture, leaving a hole in the heart. This is fatal and needs immediate medical attention.
  • Cardiogenic shock – Some people may suffer from cardiogenic shock, which is similar to a heart failure, but more serious. This develops when the heart muscle becomes damaged that it can no longer function properly.

6Diagnosis

Normally, doctors should screen patients who are at a higher risk for heart attack. The usual diagnostic tests used to detect a heart attack include:

Electrocardiogram (ECG) – The first test used to diagnose a heart attack is an ECG. This will detect the electrical activity of the heart.

Blood tests – Certain enzymes in the heart may slowly leak into the bloodstream. When these markers are present in the blood, it could signal heart muscle damage.

Additional tests:

The additional tests include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Coronary artery catheterization (angiogram)
  • Stress test
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT)

7Treatment

It is important to treat a heart attack immediately. If you see someone who is having a heart attack, make sure you call the emergency personnel immediately. If you have the emergency medical knowledge, you should promptly apply first aid.

Medications

Aspirin – Often, the 911 operator may ask you to take aspirin if you’re experiencing a heart attack. Aspirin reduces blood clotting and helps maintain a normal blood flow through a narrowed artery.

Antiplatelet agents – Antiplatelet medicines may reduce the risk of the complications of a heart attack.

Thrombolytics – Thrombolytics are also called clot busters. These will help dissolve a blood clot that is interfering the flow of blood to the heart.

Nitroglycerin – The medicine is used to treat chest pain or angina. It can help improve the blood flow to the heart.

Surgical and other procedures – Aside from medicines, there are surgical procedures that can help treat a heart attack and restore the normal blood flow to the heart.

  • Coronary angioplasty and stenting – This involves the insertion of a long and thin tube or catheter that’s passed through an artery. This will be used to locate and treat blockages.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery – Coronary artery bypass surgery is used as an emergency surgery or treatment for an acute heart attack.

8Prevention

  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Get regular medical consultations and check-ups
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Manage your diabetes
  • Control stress
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Have your blood sugar checked
  • Have your blood pressure checked and made sure you take your maintenance drugs as prescribed.
  • Take your medicines regularly as prescribed by the doctor.
  • Choose healthier food options
  • Do not eat junk foods, fast foods, and foods high in saturated fat
  • Manage stress and have adequate amounts of sleep
  • Do not let yourself work for long hours without rest.