Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when there is a sudden blockage in a coronary artery. This restricts the flow of blood, meaning that oxygen-rich blood is unable to reach the heart. When the heart is starved of blood, serious and life-threatening damage can be inflicted on the heart muscle.      

Cause of a Heart Attack
A heart attack is caused by the formation of a blood clot in a coronary artery. When the body's cholesterol levels are too high, it causes deposits of fatty substances known as plaque to build up along the interior walls of the blood vessels. These deposits also contain white blood cells, which build up inside the lining of the blood vessels instead of circulating around the body. Over time, these fatty deposits will rupture or split, and the blood vessel will try to repair itself by forming a blood clot, which then further constricts the surrounding blood vessels. If a rupture occurs in a small blood vessel, the patient may only experience chest pain. However, if the blood clot forms in a large blood vessel such as a coronary artery, it can result in death.
  • Common risk factors for heart attack include:
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • A family history of coronary heart disease
  • Obesity
A heart attack usually occurs suddenly. It may occur among patients who are generally in good health, but who nonetheless develop abnormal symptoms.
 
The most crucial symptoms to look out for include:
  • Tight chest pain; as if a heavy object has been placed on the chest, especially across the middle of the chest, with the pain lasting for more than one minute
  • Shooting pain which travels up to the neck, jaw, shoulders, and arms on both sides
  • Sweating
  • Feeling tired easily / fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Rapid heartbeat
 
Do not ignore these warning signs. If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
Diagnosing a heart attack may involve the following:
  • Examination of the patient's history and symptoms
  • Blood test
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest x-ray
  • Cardiac catheterization or coronary angiogram

After the diagnosis confirms that the patient is indeed having a heart attack, the doctor will perform an angiogram to locate the position where the blood vessel is blocked. This is done with guidance from an X-ray. Once the blockage is located, the doctor will expand the constricted blood vessel using the angioplasty procedure; the method involves inserting a catheter through a blood vessel in the groin or arm, and guiding it towards the coronary artery. The doctor will then enlarge the narrow vessel by inflating a small balloon placed on the end of the catheter. This enables blood to flow more easily past the point where the vessel had been blocked. Typically, the doctor also inserts a metal stent to prevent the re-blocking of the blood vessel.
 
In cases where there are multiple constricted blood vessels, the doctor may consider coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). This type of bypass surgery involves operating on the blood vessels connected to the heart by creating an additional channel to increase the blood flow in the area that is constricted, thus causing blood to move towards the heart with less resistance. In turn, this enables more oxygenated blood to reach the heart muscle.

  • Have healthy eating habits; don't eat too much high-fat or high-calorie foods; avoid salty foods, processed foods, and foods with added sugar. Make sure to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables 
  • Don’t smoke
  • Find ways to reduce stress
  • Get regular exercise

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