Heart attack, also known as myocardial infraction (MI), occurs when a coronary artery (one of the blood vessels that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle) becomes blocked. This causes the area of heart muscle that does not receive blood to die.
The seriousness of a heart attack greatly depends on how much of the heart is damaged. Often the surrounding healthy muscle can still work allowing the heart to pump while the injured muscle heals and recovers some of its strength.
People who are prone to heart attack are those with family history of coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, uncontrolled high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, smoking habits, stress, or those who are obese and do not exercise.
In general, if you have a family history of coronary heart disease, you will have a higher risk of heart attacks.
High cholesterol is an indication that there is too much cholesterol in the blood, meaning risk of heart attack increases. A cholesterol level above 240 is dangerous. The triglyceride (type of fat molecules in the blood) level should be below 200.
If one has uncontrolled high blood pressure, his or her heart has to work a lot harder. This increases the risk. Blood pressure is indicated as two numbers: the top number (systolic pressure) reflects the pressure of blood in the vessels as the heart beats; and the bottom number (diastolic pressure) shows the pressure of the blood between heartbeats. For adults, if your blood pressure exceeds 140/90, you are classified as high blood pressure or hypertension.
People with uncontrolled diabetes can have their odds of getting a heart attack increased by 2 – 3 times if their conditions are not kept under control. If Glycated Hemoglobin Test (blood test indicating overall diabetes control) indicates a result that does not fall within the optimal range of 6.5 – 7%, the person may be at risk.
Are you aware that smokers are 3 times more likely to get a heart attack? The poisons in cigarette smoke damage your arteries, speed up arteriosclerosis and deprive your heart of oxygen.
Age and gender can play a part, too. Older people are at a greater risk of getting heart attacks. Women may not get heart disease at younger age due to the protective effects of female hormones before menopause.
Are there any symptoms that you can observe whether a person is having heart attack? Yes of course, but a heart attack can be felt differently by different people. Usually, angina is the first sign of heart disease. This can be felt as chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Sometimes, one may feel pain in his or her arms or jaw. There are also other signs such as dizziness, fainting, sweating or nausea.
The most common test to diagnose whether one is having heart attack is to undergo Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). This checks the heart’s rhythm and locates the area in the heart where an attack might be occurring or has occurred.
Once it is clear that a person is having a heart attack, immediate treatment by doctors usually includes drugs to open the blocked artery. Medication can help restore blood flow to the heart muscle preventing clots from forming again.
For more serious heart attack, heart surgical procedures may be proposed. These include balloon angioplasty or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) to widen narrowed arteries with an inflated balloon. Sometimes, such procedures also use devices known as “stents” to help keep the arteries open.
If the blockages in the blood vessels are very severe, doctors may call for a coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG). This is another operative procedure where blood vessels from other parts of the body are removed and used as a graft to by pass the obstruction in the coronary artery, thus re-supplying the heart muscles.
Taking medications, undergoing procedures or surgery cannot guarantee the heart attack patients free from recurrence of heart attack. Chances to have a second heart attack are relatively high for both men and women. Therefore, it is important for the heart attack patients to continue with medical follow-up treatment, participate in cardiac rehabilitation if possible, and make necessary lifestyle changes. Quit smoking at once, adopt healthy eating and start an exercise program to reduce the risk of another heart attack.