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Heart Attack: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment And Prevention

A heart attack occurs when then blood flow to the heart is blocked. That is, it can be defined as the death of heart muscles due to the lack of blood supply and this usually happens when a blood clot blocks the artery supplying the heart muscle.

The blockage is caused due to buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances which creates plaque in the arteries and hence block the blood flow by breaking away to form clots. Also called a myocardial infarction, heart attacks are serious medical emergencies that require immediate medical attention [1] .

One of the most prevalent cardiovascular diseases, men aged 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.

Causes Of Heart Attack

Cardiac conditions cause heart attacks. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease, a condition that clogs coronary arteries with fatty plaques. The buildup of various substances can narrow the coronary arteries and result in developing coronary artery disease, which is the primary cause of heart attack [2] .

Heart attacks can also be caused by a torn blood vessel and in very rare cases, it has happened due to a blood vessel spasm [3] .

Symptoms Of Heart Attack

The most common symptoms of myocardial infarction are as follows [4] :

  • Pressure and tightness in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck

Nausea

Cold sweat

Sudden dizziness

However, it is to be noted that the symptoms of the condition are not the same for every individual. That is, the symptoms vary from one person to other and even from one heart attack to another.

It is imperative that you learn to understand whether it is a heart attack or chest pain because most people disregard the early symptoms of a heart attack by thinking it is nothing more than a chest pain [5] .

According to medical professionals, the early symptoms of a heart attack should not be neglected because early heart attack symptoms occur in 50 per cent of all people who have heart attacks. Recognising early symptoms can help in getting treatment quickly, thereby preventing heart damage because 85 per cent of heart damage happens in the first two hours following a heart attack [6] .

Early symptoms of heart attack

  • Pain in your shoulders, neck, and jaw [7]
  • Mild pain or discomfort in your chest that may come and go
  • Sweating
  • Severe anxiety or confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting sensation
  • Breathlessness
  • Lightheadedness

Understanding the symptoms of a heart attack is crucial as it helps in getting the right treatment at the right time. Consequently, the symptoms vary in both men and women. Let us take look at the differences, so it may help you and your loved ones.

Symptoms of a heart attack in men

According to medical professionals, men are more likely to have an attack in comparison to women. As a result of thousands of studies, researchers were able to understand the symptoms of heart attack that are specific to men [8] .

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you can't get enough air (even at rest)
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body (arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach)
  • A weighted feeling on your chest, which comes and goes

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Symptoms of a heart attack in women

Studies were able to gather the understanding that the symptoms of a heart attack in women were different from that of women. The symptoms are mentioned below [9] .

  • Indigestion or gas-like pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Throat pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unusual fatigue lasting for several day or sudden fatigues

In women over the age of 50, the risk of developing heart attacks increase as this period is when the female body transitions through menopause. This is because the hormone oestrogen which helps protect your heart drops during menopause - thereby increasing the risk [10] .

Some of the symptoms specifically reported in women over 50 are as follows [11] :

  • Severe chest pain
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach

Risk Factors For Heart Attack

Some factors increase your risk for heart attacks and they are as follows [12] :

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco
  • High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Illicit drug use
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • A family history of heart attack
  • An autoimmune condition
  • A history of preeclampsia

Complications Of Heart Attack

A heart attack can result in abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), heart failure (an attack might damage the heart tissue that the remaining heart muscle fail to function) and sudden cardiac arrest [13] .

Diagnosis Of Heart Attack

The doctor will carry out a physical examination and review the medical history. An electrocardiogram (ECG) will be conducted to monitor your heart's electrical activity.

Apart from these, blood samples will be acquired to run tests to check for muscle damage.

Some of the additional diagnostic tests involved are as follows [14] :

  • Echocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Coronary catheterisation (angiogram)
  • Exercise stress test
  • Cardiac CT or MRI

Treatment For Heart Attacks

Depending on the cause and condition, the doctor will recommend various tests.

The first and foremost thing done will be a cardiac catheterisation where a probe will be inserted into the blood vessels, which in turn help the doctor in understanding the plaque buildup [15] .

In case of a heart attack, the doctor will recommend procedures that help in relieving pain and preventing the onset of another heart attack.

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The procedures include angioplasty, a stent, heart bypass surgery, heart valve surgery, a pacemaker and a heart transplant [16] .

The medications prescribed for treating heart attacks include aspirin, antiplatelet and anticoagulants (blood thinners), drugs to remove clots, painkillers, thrombolytics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, statins, nitroglycerin and blood pressure medication [17] .

Silent Heart Attack

Similar to any normal heart attack, a silent heart attack occurs without the usual symptoms. This often causes the person to not even realise that they are having an attack.

According to studies, 45 per cent of individuals in India experience heart attacks each year without even knowing it. Silent heart attacks too cause damage to your heart and elevate the risk of developing heart attacks [18] .

Silent heart attacks are common among people with diabetes and in individuals who have had heart attacks previously.

Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack are as follows [19] :

  • Clamminess of skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Heartburn
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Increased fatigue
  • Mild discomfort in your chest, jaw or arms that goes away with resting

Prevention Of Heart Attack

Adopting and making changes in your daily life and habits can help in managing the condition [20] .

  • Avoid smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Manage diabetes
  • Control stress
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Get regular medical check-ups

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Precaution

Avoid taking birth control pills if you have had a heart attack, as they can increase the blood-clotting activity in your body [21] .

View Article References
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  2. [2] Bayrak, D., & Tosun, N. (2018). Determination of nursing activities for prevention of heart attack and stroke in hypertension patients. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 11(2), 1073.
  3. [3] Huang, C. C., & Liao, P. C. (2016). Heart Attack Causes Head-Ache–Cardiac Cephalalgia. Acta Cardiologica Sinica, 32(2), 239.
  4. [4] Chau, P. H., Moe, G., Lee, S. Y., Woo, J., Leung, A. Y., Chow, C. M., ... & Zerwic, J. (2018). Low level of knowledge of heart attack symptoms and inappropriate anticipated treatment-seeking behaviour among older Chinese: a cross-sectional survey. J Epidemiol Community Health, 72(7), 645-652.
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