A heart attack is scary. If you've had it or are close to someone who has, you're not alone. Many people survive a heart attack and live productive lives.
As you work towards recovery, the following frequently asked questions can help you better understand what happened and how your heart can be healed. Knowledge is power. Use this information to live longer and healthier lives.
See how damage to a coronary artery leads to a heart attack.
Heart attack questions and answers
What is a heart attack?
Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that carries oxygen to the heart muscle is greatly reduced or completely stopped.
Watch an animation of blood flow between the heart and lungs.
This happens when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrowed due to the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, which together are called plaque. This slow process is known asatherosclerosis.
When a plaque inside an artery in the heart ruptures, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block blood flow through the artery to the heart muscle.
ischemiait is a condition where the flow of blood (and therefore oxygen) is limited or reduced in a part of the body. Cardiac ischemia is a decrease in blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle. When part of the heart muscle dies or is damaged due to ischemia, it is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI).
About every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.
Why haven't I received any notification?
The atherosclerosis process may be asymptomatic in its early stages. But when an artery is narrowed by more than 70%, muscle pain or cramps can occur when the tissue needs more oxygen than it can handle.
When a coronary artery narrows and restricts blood flow, other nearby blood vessels serving the heart sometimes dilate to compensate, which may explain why there may be no warning signs.
This network of dilated nearby blood vessels is called collateral circulation and helps protect some people from a heart attack by supplying the heart with needed blood. Collateral circulation may also develop after a heart attack to help the heart muscle recover.
Is my heart permanently damaged?
When a heart attack occurs, the heart muscle that has lost its blood supply begins to become damaged. The degree of myocardial damage depends on the size of the area supplied by the blocked artery and the time elapsed between injury and healing.
The heart muscle damaged by a heart attack heals, forming scar tissue. The heart muscle usually heals over several weeks. The time depends on the severity of the injury and the rate of healing.
The heart is a hard organ. Although part of it has been severely damaged, the rest of the heart is still functioning. But because of the damage, your heart may be weakened and unable to pump as much blood as it used to.
Come onproper treatmentmilifestyle changesafter a heart attack, further damage can be limited or prevented.
learn more aboutdetection of heart damage.
How long will it take me to recover from a heart attack?
Talk to your healthcare professional about recovery time. Heart attacks can have longer or shorter recovery periods and complications. It depends on the size and location of the damage and the treatment of the heart attack.
Scar tissue may form in the damaged area, which does not shrink or pump as well as healthy muscle tissue. As a result, the degree of damage to the heart muscle can affect how well the heart pumps blood throughout the body.
The degree of loss of pumping function depends on the size and location of the scar tissue. Most heart attack survivors have some degreecoronary artery disease(CAD) and will need to make major lifestyle changes and possibly take medication to prevent a future heart attack. Following these steps can help you lead a full and productive life.
learn more aboutrecovery after a heart attack.
Is all chest pain a heart attack?
NO. But if you experience pain or discomfort in your chest, consult your healthcare professional immediately. A common type of chest pain is calledangina. This is a recurring discomfort that usually only lasts a few minutes. Angina occurs when the heart muscle does not receive enough blood and oxygen, which is a sign of an increased risk of a heart attack.
The difference between angina and a heart attack is that angina attacks do not cause permanent damage to the heart muscle.
Different types of angina include:
- Stable angina or angina pectoris.It usually occurs during exercise or emotional stress when the heart rate and blood pressure increase and the heart muscle needs more oxygen.Learn more about stable angina.
- Unstable angina.One of several acute coronary syndromes, it occurs during rest or sleep or with light exercise. It's a suprise. Unstable angina can lead to a heart attack and must be treated as an emergency.Learn more about unstable angina.
What are the different medical terms for a heart attack?
Acute coronary syndrome (ACS):The general term refers to situations where the blood supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked.Learn more about ACS.
STEMI:The common name ST segment elevation myocardial infarction is caused by complete blockage of a coronary artery.
NSTEMI:A non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction occurs when an artery is partially blocked and severely reduces blood flow.
Myocardial infarction (MI):It occurs when an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) is damaged or dies after the blood supply is blocked. It's the classic medical term for a heart attack.
Coronary thrombosis:It occurs when a clot forms in one of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This is also called a coronary occlusion.
Coronary occlusion:Blockage of a coronary artery that prevents blood flow to certain parts of the heart muscle and can cause a heart attack.
Are there other causes of a heart attack besides embolism?
Occasionally, a coronary artery temporarily narrows or goes into a spasm. When this happens, the artery narrows and blood flow to part of the heart muscle slows or stops.
Spasm can occur in normal-looking blood vessels as well as in vessels partially blocked by atherosclerosis. ANDstrong contractioncan cause a heart attack.
Another rare cause of a heart attack isspontaneous dissection of the coronary artery(SCAD)i.e. spontaneous rupture of the coronary artery wall.
What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
People often use these terms to mean the same thing but describe different events.
A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart is blocked. It's a circulation problem.
In sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem caused by an irregular heart rhythm called arrhythmia. A common and potentially fatal arrhythmia is ventricular fibrillation. This happens when the lower chambers of the heart suddenly start beating erratically and fail to pump blood.
It can cause a heart attackventricular fibrillationwhich in turn can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Death can occur minutes after cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest can be reversed if CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is performed and a defibrillator is used within minutes to deliver a shock to the heart and return the heart to normal rhythm.
learn more aboutdifference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.
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Connect with other heart attack survivors and their carersthrough our support network.
learn more aboutdiseases and conditionsthat affect your heart.
A heart attack happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood in one or more of the coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle, suddenly becomes blocked, and a section of heart muscle can't get enough oxygen.What are two words to describe heart attack? ›
The terms myocardial and infarction aren't only used to refer to heart attacks. The term myocardial is used in other medical terms that refer to heart muscle.Which of these describes a heart attack? ›
chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest. pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy. feeling lightheaded or dizzy.What is considered a heart attack heart rate? ›
While no one particular heart rate qualifies as a heart attack, a rapid heart rate outside 60 to 100 beats per minute should be monitored closely. Doctors cannot say that a particular heart rate qualifies as a heart attack. Your heart rate is not a reliable indicator that you are having a heart attack.What is heart attack in one word? ›
A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, happens when the flow of blood that brings oxygen to a part of your heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked.How long is a heart attack? ›
Time. How long heart attack symptoms occur. Mild heart attack symptoms might only occur for two to five minutes then stop with rest. A full heart attack with complete blockage lasts much longer, sometimes for more than 20 minutes.What do you call a mild heart attack? ›
Silent Myocardial Infarction (SMI).
These less severe heart attacks are also referred to as “mild heart attacks”, “minor heart attacks”, or “mini heart attacks”.
The technical term for a “mini” heart attack is a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). While the term “mini” heart attack may sound as though it is less severe than other types of heart attack, this condition is still serious and constitutes a medical emergency.Are there 2 types of heart attacks? ›
Type 1 describes patients with a plaque rupture. Type 2 involves a condition other than coronary artery disease (the plaque-caused hardening of arteries) contributing to an imbalance between the heart's oxygen supply and demand, such as bleeding or a stroke.What happens a month before a heart attack? ›
A heart attack is a medical emergency in which the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked. Warning signs that occur a month beforehand could be chest discomfort, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Pre-Heart Attack Symptoms – Female
Men may feel pain and numbness in the left arm or the side of the chest. In women, these symptoms may appear on the right side. Women may experience unexplained exhaustion, or feel drained, dizzy or nauseous. Women may feel upper back pain that travels up into their jaw.
Lung issues, including infection (pneumonia) or a blood clot (pulmonary embolism) Muscle pain, such as inflammation or injury to the muscles in the chest wall. Other digestive issues, such as inflammation or spasms in the pancreas, gallbladder or esophagus. Panic attack, or very intense anxiety.How painful is a heart attack? ›
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.Can anxiety mimic a heart attack? ›
Those with an anxiety disorder have most likely experienced a panic or anxiety attack at some point in their lives. The symptoms can closely mimic heart attacks for some people—they may feel chest pain, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, or a racing heartbeat.Can stress cause a heart attack? ›
Stress may lead to high blood pressure, which can pose a risk for heart attack and stroke. Stress also may contribute to such cardiovascular disease risks as smoking, overeating and lack of physical activity. "Chronic stress has been shown to be associated with increased cardiovascular events," Schiffrin said.What to do during heart attack? ›
- Call 911 or your local emergency number. ...
- Chew and swallow an aspirin while waiting for emergency help. ...
- Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. ...
- Begin CPR if the person is unconscious.
Treatment. Half the deaths from a heart attack occur in the first 3 or 4 hours after symptoms begin. It is crucial that symptoms of a heart attack be treated as a medical emergency.How much time do you have before heart attack? ›
Some heart attacks strike suddenly. But many people have warning signs and symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. Chest pain or pressure (angina) that keeps happening and doesn't go away with rest may be an early warning sign. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.How survivable is a heart attack? ›
Fatality rates used to be as high as 50%. However, more than 90%⁷ of people today survive a heart attack. Surviving a myocardial infarction is primarily due to recognizing the symptoms, getting prompt treatment, and prevention awareness.What is the deadliest type of heart attack? ›
The most deadly type of heart attack is the ST-elevated myocardial infarction (STEMI). STEMI is a total or nearly total blockage of a coronary artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to part of the heart muscle. Lack of blood and oxygen causes that part of the heart to fail.
A silent heart attack is a heart attack that has few, if any, symptoms or has symptoms not recognized as a heart attack. A silent heart attack might not cause chest pain or shortness of breath, which are typically associated with a heart attack.What is a false heart attack called? ›
Takotsubo syndrome is a sudden and acute form of heart failure. Symptoms can be similar to a heart attack. It is also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome, acute stress induced cardiomyopathy, and apical ballooning.Should I go to ER for mini heart attack? ›
Although most cases of chest pain are harmless, you should go to the emergency room immediately if your chest pain is intense, prolonged, or is accompanied by other symptoms. Here are some symptoms that may indicate you need immediate medical attention: Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath. Confusion/disorientation.What is usually the first symptom of a heart attack? ›
The very first symptom of a heart attack listed by the American Heart Association is "uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest." This discomfort may come in waves lasting more than a few minutes at a time.Do mini heart attacks show up on EKG? ›
If you've had a silent heart attack, you may not know it occurred until you have an imaging test like an EKG, MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound. An EKG is one tool that doctors use to find evidence of previous heart attacks, but it's best used when combined with other diagnostic techniques like blood tests and imaging.What are the four types of heart attacks? ›
- STEMI (ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction)
- NSTEMI (non-ST segment myocardial infarction)
- Coronary Artery Spasm (also known as 'Prinzmetal's angina)
- Stable Angina.
- Unstable Angina.
A mild heart attack often doesn't cause much permanent heart damage or only affects a relatively small portion of the heart muscle. It could be the result of a blockage that occurs in a small coronary artery, or the blockage does not completely block blood flow to the heart, or it only lasts a brief time.Are sudden heart attacks rare? ›
Sudden cardiac death is the largest cause of natural death in the United States. It causes about 325,000 adult deaths in the nation each year. Sudden cardiac death is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths. Sudden cardiac death occurs most frequently in adults in their mid-30s to mid-40s.Does aspirin stop a heart attack? ›
Taking aspirin during a heart attack is safe and recommended. If you think you're having a heart attack, call 911 or emergency medical services. Don't delay calling for help. Aspirin alone won't save your life if you're having a heart attack.How do you feel days before a heart attack? ›
“I understand that heart attacks have beginnings and on occasion, signs of an impending heart attack may include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, shoulder and/or arm pain and weakness. These may occur hours or weeks before the actual heart attack.
“Most heart attacks hit during the early morning hours from 4 – 10 am when blood platelets are stickier, and there is increased adrenaline released from the adrenal glands that can trigger rupture of plaques in coronary arteries,” said Dr.How long after a heart attack will it show in blood work? ›
How long after a heart attack can doctors use the test? Doctors can test for troponin immediately when an individual presents with symptoms. Troponin levels rise as early as 4 hours after a heart attack and peak between 24 and 48 hours. Increased levels can persist for 7 days or longer, depending on kidney function.What are 3 warning signs of a heart attack in females? ›
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. ...
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
Apple Watch cannot detect heart attacks. If you ever experience chest pain, pressure, tightness, or what you think is a heart attack, call emergency services immediately. The irregular rhythm notification feature on Apple Watch is not constantly looking for AFib.Can you have a heart attack and be fine? ›
A silent heart attack, also called a silent Ischemia, is a heart attack that has either no symptoms, minimal symptoms or unrecognized symptoms. A heart attack is not always as obvious as pain in your chest, shortness of breath and cold sweats.How do I know if I'm having a heart attack or not? ›
Common heart attack signs and symptoms include:
Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back. Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain. Shortness of breath. Cold sweat.
Unfortunately, many people don't even realize they're having a silent heart attack because they're not having obvious symptoms. But a heart attack of any kind is an emergency. You should call 911 right away even if you don't know for sure that you're having a heart attack.What does a false heart attack feel like? ›
They may think it's just indigestion or muscle pain, when the real cause is actually reduced blood flow to the heart. People may also experience other atypical symptoms, such as nausea or excessive sweating during a heart attack (see "Heart attack symptoms").What is the closest thing to heart attack? ›
Stable angina is not usually an emergency, but it can be painful and frightening and should prompt further medical investigation. Unstable – When angina becomes unstable, it is often the precursor to a heart attack, which is a medical emergency.How do I know my chest pain is not heart related? ›
Usually, chest pain is less likely due to a heart problem if it happens with: A sour taste or a sensation of food reentering the mouth. Trouble swallowing. Pain that gets better or worse when you change body position.
Blood pressure might drop if someone is having a heart attack because the heart is too weak to maintain it, as the muscle might have been damaged. The severe pain a person might feel during a heart attack could also trigger an automatic response, which might lead to decreased blood pressure and fainting.How can I rule out a heart attack at home? ›
Signs of a heart attack include:
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. - Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. - Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. (If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.)
The difference is that, when extra heartbeats in the upper and lower chambers are the cause of abnormal rhythm, symptoms may feel like an initial skip or hard thumping beat followed by a racing heart. When anxiety is the trigger, heart rate typically increases steadily rather than suddenly.What is heart anxiety? ›
Abstract. Cardiophobia is defined as an anxiety disorder of persons characterized by repeated complaints of chest pain, heart palpitations, and other somatic sensations accompanied by fears of having a heart attack and of dying.What do they do during a heart attack? ›
You might receive clot-dissolving drugs (thrombolysis), balloon angioplasty (PCI), surgery or a combination of treatments. About 36 percent of hospitals in the U.S. are equipped to use a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a mechanical means of treating heart attack.What do do during a heart attack? ›
- Call 911 or your local emergency number. ...
- Chew and swallow an aspirin while waiting for emergency help. ...
- Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. ...
- Begin CPR if the person is unconscious.
Lung issues, including infection (pneumonia) or a blood clot (pulmonary embolism) Muscle pain, such as inflammation or injury to the muscles in the chest wall. Other digestive issues, such as inflammation or spasms in the pancreas, gallbladder or esophagus. Panic attack, or very intense anxiety.What causes sudden heart attack? ›
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. CHD is a condition in which the coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that supply the heart with blood) become clogged with deposits of cholesterol. These deposits are called plaques.What is a minor heart attack like? ›
Symptoms of a mini heart attack are similar to a regular heart attack but last for a shorter time and include: Pain, pressure, tightness, or discomfort in the chest. Pain, tingling, squeezing, or discomfort in other parts of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Shortness of breath.What happens immediately before a heart attack? ›
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
- Do not rely on just taking nitroglycerin. Taking a prescribed medication such as nitroglycerin that temporarily widens blood vessels to improve blood supply to the heart is unlikely to stop a heart attack. ...
- Do not cough repeatedly. ...
- Do not apply pressure on the chest.
You may not even know you've had a silent heart attack until weeks or months after it happens. It's best to know what's normal for your body and get help when something doesn't feel right. Knowing the subtle signs of a silent heart attack can help you identify one.How do you calm down a heart attack? ›
Have the person sit down, rest, and try to keep calm. Loosen any tight clothing. Ask if the person takes any chest pain medicine, such as nitroglycerin for a known heart condition, and help them take it.How can I test myself for a heart attack? ›
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that comes on quickly and won't go away with rest. - Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. - Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.