A heart attack happens when one or more of your coronary arteries become blocked from a buildup of various substances, including cholesterol (atherosclerosis).The build-up is referred to as “plaques.”
This is known as Coronary Artery Disease and it’s the cause of most heart attacks.
During a heart attack, one of these plaques can burst open, spilling cholesterol and other substances into the bloodstream.
- A blood clot forms at the site of the rupture, and if it’s large enough, completely blocks the flow of blood through the coronary artery.
Risk Factors And Causes of a heart attack:
- Tobacco use: (or long-term exposure to second-hand smoke) and drugs like amphetamines and cocaine can also cause a life-threatening spasm of a coronary artery, shutting down blood flow to parts of the heart.
- A spasm of a coronary artery will also shut down blood flow to part of the heart muscle.
- A heart attack can also happen because of a tear in the heart artery.
- Age: Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than younger men and women.
- High blood pressure: Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that feed your heart by accelerating atherosclerosis.
High blood pressure caused by obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes increases your risk even more.
- High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
- Diabetes: Insulin, a hormone secreted by your pancreas, allows your body to use glucose, a form of sugar.
Having diabetes — not producing enough insulin or not responding to insulin properly — causes your body’s blood sugar levels to rise. Diabetes, especially uncontrolled, increases your risk of a heart attack.
- A family history of heart attack: If your siblings, parents or grandparents have had early heart attacks (by age 55 for male relatives and by age 65 for female relatives), you may have a higher risk.
- Lack of physical activity: An inactive lifestyle contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity. People who get regular aerobic exercise have better cardiovascular fitness, which decreases their overall risk of heart attack. Exercise is also beneficial in lowering high blood pressure.
- Obesity: Obesity is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Losing just 10 % of your body weight can lower this risk, however.
- Stress: You may respond to stress in ways that can increase your risk of a heart attack.
- A history of preeclampsia: This condition causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
- A history of an autoimmune condition, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus.
- Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), some of which can be serious or fatal.
- Heart failure: An attack may damage so much heart tissue that the remaining heart muscle can’t adequately pump blood out of your heart. Heart failure may be temporary, or it can be a chronic condition resulting from extensive and permanent damage to your heart.
- Heart rupture: Areas of heart muscle weakened by a heart attack can rupture, leaving a hole in part of the heart. This rupture is often fatal.
- Valve problems: Heart valves damaged during a heart attack may develop severe leakage problems.
Signs and Symptoms of a heart attack:
- A feeling of pressure, tightness, pain in your chest
- An aching feeling or a feeling that your heart is being squeezed in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Fatigue or a feeling of extreme tiredness
- Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
Some people have pain, but others may have “a silent heart attack” where no pain or other symptoms are present.
However, many people have warning signs and symptoms for hours, days or weeks in advance. The earliest warning may be intermittent chest pain when exerting themselves or during exercise, which is relieved by rest. The chest pain (called Angina) is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.
When to see a doctor
- Call 911 or your local emergency number for immediate medical help. Do Not Hesitate.
- If you don’t have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital.
- Do NOT drive yourself unless there are no other options. Your condition can worsen, putting you and others at risk.
- If your doctor has prescribed it, take nitroglycerin as instructed while you wait for emergency help.
- Don’t delay calling 911 to take the nitroglycerin. Call for emergency help first.