Heart Attacks: What to Watch For
Writer / Dr. Omar Batal, Cardiologist at IU Heath West Hospital
A heart attack, called acute myocardial infarction, occurs when an area of the heart muscle does not receive enough blood flow and stops functioning. Blood flow stops because plaque, a waxy-like substance of cholesterol deposits, builds up in the artery and then ruptures, causing an occlusion. A heart attack can threaten one’s life and requires immediate medical attention.
Signs of a heart attack
Signs of a heart attack can differ. Symptoms tend to be abrupt and last more than a few minutes or may go away, then come back. Most people experience chest pain and/or pain in the arms, shoulders, neck, jaw or top of the stomach. Shortness of breath may also be a symptom, with or without chest pain. Other signs may be nausea, dizziness or fatigue. According to the American Heart Association, women most commonly experience symptoms of chest pain, but are somewhat more likely to experience other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting as well as back or jaw pain.
What to do if you or someone else shows signs of a heart attack
If you or a loved one is experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Do not drive to the hospital. Emergency personnel can begin lifesaving care in the back of the ambulance and ensure quicker treatment at the hospital.
The longer it takes for the heart muscle to receive blood flow, the more that area of heart muscle is at risk of dying, decreasing heart function. Once a heart attack occurs, a physician must clear the plaque causing the attack as quickly as possible to restore blood flow.
Your physician will offer comprehensive heart attack care from treatment through recovery. There are multiple treatment options that involve medications and procedure-based therapies. Angioplasty is a catheter-based therapy used to reopen the artery to allow blood flow to the heart. Physicians do this by making a small incision in the groin or gain access by using the artery in the wrist or arm, then guiding a deflated balloon through the arteries to the blocked area. Once in place, they will inflate the balloon, allowing blood flow to return to the heart. Stent placement uses a similar technique to deploy a mesh wire tube into the artery to keep it open.
Doctors may sometimes recommend coronary artery bypass surgery for severe blockages when multiple vessels are involved or depending on the location of the narrowed arteries. The surgeon will graft a new vein or artery into your heart vessels to allow blood to divert around the blockage. Following a heart attack, your physician prescribes medications to prevent future heart attacks and improve your heart health.