Your heart muscle needs oxygen and nutrients to work as it should. These are provided by the blood that flows through the blood vessels that go to the heart (coronary arteries). A heart attack (your doctor may call it a myocardial infarction, or MI) usually occurs when blood flow to the heart is suddenly cut off.
When this happens, the heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich blood. In just a short period of time, part of the heart can be damaged or die. That’s why immediate care is critical — it can spare your heart and save your life. If you think you are having a heart attack, dial 911 immediately.
If you’ve had a heart attack, you know how scary it can be. And you’re not alone: More than 800,000 Americans have a heart attack each year.
Unfortunately, once you’ve had a heart attack, your chance of having another one is higher. But there are steps you can take to protect your heart. Taking prescribed medications, following an exercise program tailored to you, maintaining a healthy weight and being careful about what you eat can all help keep your heart healthy. Controlling your blood pressure and lowering cholesterol are also important steps to help prevent another heart attack.
No two heart attacks are the same. If you’ve already had a heart attack, listen to your body. A repeat attack may feel very different. Both men and women can feel the classic crushing chest pain or tightness (called unstable angina), but women often report additional accompanying symptoms. Some people might know it’s a heart attack, but others might have less clear symptoms.
When you think of a heart attack, you may have an image in your mind of someone – typically a man – suddenly folded over and clutching their chest. After all, this is how it’s often shown in movies and TV shows. But while this can be the case, you can feel a heart attack in other ways.
Heart attack, also called myocardial infarction, is a leading killer of men and women in the United States. The good news is that treatments can save lives and help people live an active life after a heart attack. But getting care quickly is the key.
What Causes a Heart Attack?
During a heart attack, the heart’s blood supply is suddenly cut off. When this happens, the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. In a short period of time, part of the heart can be damaged or die. That’s why immediate care is so important – it can spare your heart and save your life. If your heart has a lot of damage, it can be very weak.
Most often, heart attacks result from a buildup of plaque inside the coronary artery (atherosclerosis). When the plaque breaks away inside of the artery, a blood clot can form, blocking blood flow through a coronary artery. Less common causes of heart attacks include an intense spasm of the coronary artery that lasts a long time or a tear in the artery wall (called spontaneous coronary artery dissection). Both of these can reduce blood flow to the heart muscle.
Having a heart attack can be scary, and it’s often life-changing. For some people, it’s the scare they need to live a heart healthier life – making a conscious decision to eat better, exercise, manage other risk factors such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, and not smoke. For others, they may have lived for years unaware they were even at risk.
Heart attacks are linked to heart failure and possibly life-threatening problems with how the heart beats (arrhythmias).