Lavern Davidhizar, DO
What is a Heart Attack?(Signs, Symptoms, and Risk Factors)
The leading cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease with over 17
million deaths each year. Many of these people die because they either don't get
help right away or they suffer with permanent heart damage. Knowing the
symptoms of a heart attack and getting help immediately can increase your
chances of surviving.
What is a Heart Attack?
Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack happens when your blood
flow to your heart becomes blocked. This is usually due to cholesterol, fat and
other substances building up and forming plaque in your coronary arteries. Part of
your heart muscle can be damaged by this interruption in blood flow and this risk of
damage can become more severe the longer you go without treatment.
While you’re having a heart attack, this plaque can rupture, spilling the cholesterol
into your bloodstream along with the other substances. This can cause a blood clot
to form at the rupture site and if it's big enough, this clot may block your blood
flow completely from getting to your coronary artery.
A spontaneous tear in your heart artery (known as a coronary artery dissection) can
promote a heart attack as well. You can also have a heart attack when you have a
coronary artery spasm, which also blocks the flow of blood to part of your heart
muscle. These life-threatening spasms can be caused by tobacco or an illicit drug,
such as cocaine.
Heart Attack Statistics
Below are some disturbing statistics of heart attacks.
Someone in the U.S. has a heart attack every 43 seconds, and over 735,000
Americans have a heart attack each year, according to the Centers for Disease
Among these people:
Knowing these statistics, you should educate yourself on heart attack symptoms
and risk factors.
Signs & Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Chest pain and discomfort are common signs of a heart attack in both men and
women. However, women can experience different or additional heart attack
symptoms that may include:
When having a heart attack, you may experience nausea, vomiting, or unusual
tiredness. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms of a heart attack or
the severity. In some cases, only mild pain is experienced while in others the
person has more severe pain. Then there are those who don't experience any
symptoms at all. If you’re experiencing more than a couple of these symptoms, you
are at a greater risk of having a heart attack.
In some people, their heart attack comes on suddenly. Others experience their
heart attack symptoms for hours in advance; sometimes even days or weeks.
Recurrent angina (chest pain) is typically the earliest warning sign, and is frequently
triggered by exertion and goes away when you are resting.
Heart attacks are not the same thing as sudden cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest
occurs when your heart stops suddenly because of electrical disturbances
disrupting the pumping action of your heart and causing the blood flow to other
areas of your body. You can have cardiac arrest by having a heart attack.
During a heart attack, the sooner you get emergency help, the more quickly
treatment will be administered, and hopefully preventing complete blockage and
damage to your heart muscle. When you get to the emergency room, the physician
will run some tests to confirm that you’re indeed having a heart attack and which
treatment is best.
Heart Attack Symptoms Differences between Men and Women
Men and women can experience differences in terms of their heart attack
Heart Attack Symptoms in Men
When compared to women, men are more likely to report left arm pain and break
out into a cold sweat while having a heart attack. Some men experience pain in the
arms, back, neck, jaw, and/or left shoulder, and may have a rapid or irregular
heartbeat. Dizziness and shortness of breath is experienced by some men having a
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
While having a heart attack, women often suffer with some type of discomfort,
pain or pressure in their chest. It may feel like a fullness or tightness, rather than
full-fledged pain. Some women don't have chest pain during a heart attack.
Women often experience heart attack signs that are not related to chest pain like:
When women are having a heart attack, these symptoms and signs above can be
more subtle than the typical crushing pain of the chest that is usually associated
with having a heart attack. When chest pain is experienced in women, they often
describe it as a tightness or pressure. This is due to the blockages that women have
are in smaller arteries as well as the main arteries that supply the heart with blood.
Symptoms in women tend to come on more frequently when they are asleep or
resting. Symptoms can be triggered by mental stress as well in women.
Caveat: No heart attack is the same. There is no cookie-cutter description of
symptoms that every heart attack has. That said, any of these symptoms, whether
they appear in a man or a women, warrant immediate medical attention to
determine if a heart attack occurred, is occurring, or is imminent.
Heart Attack Risk Factors
There are a number of risk factors associated with having a heart attack. You can
improve your risk factors, or eliminate them altogether in some cases, to reduce
your likelihood of having a heart attack.
Some common heart attack risk factors are:
Family History and Genetics: If you have parents, siblings, or grandparents who
had a heart attack early in their life (before 55 years of age for men and before 65
years of age for women), your risk of having one yourself is increased.
Age: Your risk of a heart attack is increased if you’re a man at the age of 45 years
old or older or a woman at the age of 55 years old or older
Smoking: Your risk of heart attack is increased if you smoke or have been exposed
to secondhand smoke long-term.
Stress: Certain responses to stress can put you at risk of having a heart attack.
Obesity: This condition increases your risk since it raises your cholesterol, blood
pressure and triglyceride levels and your risk of diabetes. You can lower your risk
by losing weight.
High Blood Pressure: This condition, over time, can accelerate atherosclerosis (the
narrowing and hardening of your arteries) and cause damage to your heart-feeding
arteries. High blood pressure associated with smoking, diabetes, obesity, or high
cholesterol can increase your risk even more.
Diabetes: This is a condition that occurs when you don't respond to insulin
properly or your body is not producing enough of it, which increases the blood
sugar levels in your body. Having this condition can increase your risk of a heart
High Triglyceride or Blood Cholesterol Levels: When you have a high level of 'bad
cholesterol' (which is known as LDL/low-density lipoprotein), your risk of having
your arteries narrowed is increased as well as your risk of having a heart attack.
When your triglycerides (diet-related blood fat) are high, this also increases your
risk. You can lower your heart attack risk by having a higher level of 'good
cholesterol' or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.
Using Illicit Drugs: When you use amphetamines, cocaine, and other stimulant
drugs, you increase your risk since these drugs are known to trigger coronary
artery spasms, which can result in a heart attack.
Inactive Lifestyle: When you are not physically active it can lead to obesity and
high cholesterol levels. This increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and
having a heart attack. Regular exercise lowers your blood pressure and decreases
your heart attack risk.
Autoimmune Conditions: Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune
diseases can raise your heart attack risk.
Preeclampsia in Women: When pregnant, preeclampsia can raise your blood
pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
Importance of Recognizing Early Symptoms of a Heart Attack
You can reduce heart damage and save your life by acting quickly at the first sign
of having a heart attack. Of all people who have heart attacks, early symptoms
might be recurrent chest pain or pressure (angina) that's triggered by exertion and
relieved by rest. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.
If you or a loved one is suffering from symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or head to the closest emergency room. Time is of the essence.
Family Medical Clinic and their BodySmart program is designed to identify thos eat risk of cardiac disease. Call us at (907) 262-7566 to request an appointment today!