Coronary Infarction (Heart Attack)
The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of coronary infarction (heart attack). For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
Know your risks of heart attack
There a number of factors that can increase your risk of heart attack, including smoking and long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol use, high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, lack of exercise, obesity, stress, and elevated levels of certain proteins in the blood. If your siblings or your parents have a history of early heart attacks, you may also have a higher chance of experience a heart attack.
Men are at somewhat greater risk for heart attacks than women. However, the risk for women is known to increase after menopause and women account for nearly one half of all heart attack deaths. This is because women often don’t believe they are as vulnerable to a heart attack and don’t realize that the symptoms they are experiencing indicate a heart attack. Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back pain or jaw pain, in addition to the better-known symptoms of heart attack. Women are also more likely to have other conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, the symptoms of which can be similar to heart attack symptoms.
What's the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest and heart attacks are often confused with each other, however they are very different conditions. The heart usually continues beating during a heart attack. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops functioning. With no effective heartbeat, the brain and other vital organs are deprived of blood, leading to death within minutes. Cardiac arrest strikes immediately and without warning.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.
Know the signs of a heart attack
- Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like crushing pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath which may occur with or without chest discomfort
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Sudden loss of responsiveness (no response to tapping on shoulders)
- Abnormal breathing (person does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least 5 seconds)
If you see these signs of cardiac arrest, call 911 or EMS immediately. Use an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) if there is one, and begin CPR immediately. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has created a campaign called Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs to increase awareness of the need to act fast when someone may be having a heart attack. Fast action can save lives and limit damage to the heart. Partners in the campaign include the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and the National Council on Aging.
What should I do if I think I am—or someone I’m with is—having a heart attack?
You should never attempt to diagnosis yourself. Heart attack and stroke are life-and-death emergencies—every second counts. If you or someone with you is having any of the symptoms listed above, or you see someone else having them, call 911 immediately (within five minutes). Not all of these signs occur in every heart attack or stroke. Sometimes they go away and return. But if they occur at all, get help fast!
Calling 911 is the fastest way to get help
Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment as soon as they arrive—up to one hour sooner than if you go to the hospital by car. Patients with chest pain who arrive at a hospital by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. EMS workers are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. If you can't get EMS, have someone drive you to the hospital right away. If you're the one having symptoms, don't drive yourself unless you have absolutely no other option.
How is a heart attack treated?
Today, heart attack victims can benefit from new medications and treatments unavailable before. For example, clot-busting drugs can stop some heart attacks and strokes in progress, reducing disability and saving lives. But to be effective, these medications must be given soon after heart attack or stroke symptoms first appear. Don't delay—get help right away!
Once you reach the hospital, emergency procedures may include coronary catheterization (to locate narrowed or blocked arteries leading to the heart), coronary angioplasty and stenting (in order to reopen blocked arteries), or coronary artery bypass surgery, in order to reroute blood vessels around the blocked area.
After emergency treatment has occurred and the patient has been stabilized, a Hurley cardiologist will begin follow-up treatment by conducting a full physical examination to assess the patient’s general health, lifestyle conditions, and factors that might contribute to the possibility of a future heart attack. Your physician will likely test your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and conduct a number of other tests, including blood tests, x-rays, exercise stress tests, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms (EKG or ECG), and cardiac perfusion scans, among others. You may be prescribed medication to help reduce your risk of experiencing another heart attack.