A heart is a muscle that receives oxygenated blood from the coronary arteries. When one or more of these arteries become blocked, oxygen-rich blood can not reach the heart muscle. Muscles that do not get enough oxygen will die. When a heart muscle dies it is called a heart attack or a myocardial infarction.
A heart attack can involve one section of the heart or in many areas. The more areas involved the more serious the condition. The good news is that with prompt medical attention, the amount of permanent damage to your heart can be significantly reduced. Various treatments are available to open these clogged arteries and restore blood flow. The faster that you receive these treatments the better your prognosis.
Recognizing signs of a heart attack is very important. The most common sign is chest pain, pressure in the chest, or a feeling of a heavyweight on your chest. Pain can extend down either arm, although the left arm and shoulder are most common. The pain or pressure feeling can also extend into your neck and shoulders. Many people initially describe the pain as a feeling of indigestion. You may experience trouble breathing, shortness of breath, or feel nauseated. Many people also have a cold sweat.
In the past few years, many research studies have shown that women have slightly different symptoms. Women tend to have more vague aches and pains in the chest and complain of a feeling of sudden exhaustion. People with diabetes tend to experience have more complaints of a sudden feeling of weakness and general body aches.
If you suspect that you may be having a heart attack, phone emergency medical services immediately. Do not attempt to drive yourself or drive someone else to the hospital. Ambulance personnel is highly trained professionals that can begin life-saving treatments before you arrive in the hospital.
While waiting for the ambulance, sit quietly. Do not attempt to walk or climb stairs to meet the ambulance. If your doctor has prescribed Nitroglycerin medication, you should take it. Follow the instructions on the bottle carefully.
At your next doctor’s appointment ask him if you should take an aspirin. Aspirin can help with the blood flow to the heart muscle. There are some contraindications, so it is best to talk with your doctor. Do not drink water or eat any food while waiting for the ambulance. This will increase the chance of vomiting.
If the heart attack involves large areas of the heart or your heart rhythm changes, a cardiac arrest can occur. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops working. The blood flow to the brain and body stops. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillator are needed. If you have not taken a CPR course, consider taking one. It can save a life!
Once you arrive in the hospital you will be put on a cardiac monitor. This will monitor your heart’s rhythm and alert the staff to any changes. An electrocardiogram will be done. This test shows different angles of the heart and will tell the doctor what part of the heart muscle is involved.
It is not painful and only takes a few minutes to complete. An intravenous line will be started and blood will be drawn. Blood tests will help to diagnose the heart attack. You will also be given some oxygen. In most cases, it will be given through small tubes in your nose.
After a heart attack is diagnosed, the emergency department doctor will discuss the various treatment options. Medications may be given to help open the clogged arteries or he may recommend a surgical procedure. The decision will be based on the hospital’s capabilities and your health.