Heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction, occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow through the coronary artery causing a section of the heart muscle to die or get damaged because of reduced blood supply.
The blockage is often a result of atherosclerosis – a buildup of plaque composed of fat deposits, cholesterol, and other substances. When a plaque ruptures, a blood clot quickly forms. The blood clot is the actual cause of the heart attack.
If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off, muscle cells of the heart begin to suffer damage and start to die. Irreversible damage begins within 30 minutes of blockage. The result is dysfunction of the heart muscle in the area affected by the lack of oxygen or cell death.
Risk factors for heart attacks fall into two categories: Inherited or genetic risk factors, beyond one’s control; or acquired risk factors based on lifestyle choices such as smoking, poor diet and inactivity. Managing your risks for a heart attack begins with examining which of the risk factors apply to you, and then taking steps to eliminate or reduce them.
Heart attack symptoms may include severe pressure, fullness, squeezing, pain and/or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, and that may not be relieved with nitroglycerin. Chest pain may also occur with sweaty, cool, clammy skin; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; dizziness or fainting.
The goal of treatment for a heart attack is to relieve pain, preserve the heart muscle function, and prevent death. Treatments may include cardiac medication (beta blockers), clot-dissolving medications and in some instances, procedures such as coronary angioplasty and coronary artery bypass to restore blood flow.Previous Page Last Review Date: August 14, 2019