Information for Patients
Each year almost 800,000 Americans have a heart attack. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked. Without the blood coming in, the heart can't get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle begins to die. But if you do get quick treatment, you may be able to prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle. That's why it's important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and call 911 if you or someone else is having them. You should call, even if you are not sure that it is a heart attack.
The most common symptoms in men and women are
- Chest discomfort. It is often in center or left side of the chest. It usually lasts more than a few minutes. It may go away and come back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion.
- Shortness of breath. Sometimes this is your only symptom. You may get it before or during the chest discomfort. It can happen when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
- Discomfort in the upper body. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.
You may also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and lightheadedness. You may break out in a cold sweat. Sometimes women will have different symptoms then men. For example, they are more likely to feel tired for no reason.
The most common cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease (CAD). With CAD, there is a buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls or the arteries. This is atherosclerosis. It can build up for years. Eventually an area of plaque can rupture (break open). A blood clot can form around the plaque and block the artery.
A less common cause of heart attack is a severe spasm (tightening) of a coronary artery. The spasm cuts off blood flow through the artery.
At the hospital, health care providers make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, blood tests, and different heart health tests. Treatments may include medicines and medical procedures such as coronary angioplasty. After a heart attack, cardiac rehabilitation and lifestyle changes can help you recover.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute