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Diseases & Conditions

Heart Attack

Heart AttackCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is Heart Attack?

A heart attack or myocardial infarction is due to lack of blood flow to the muscle of the heart. As a result the heart rhythm becomes erratic and the heart can stop beating altogether. Heart attacks are the most common killer of men and women in the United States.

Causes of a Heart Attack

The primary cause of heart attacks are blocked arteries. This condition is called coronary artery disease and results in the buildup of plaque in the arteries leading to the heart. Plaque buildup can break off an artery and cause a blood clot to block the artery. The oxygenated blood can no longer reach the heart and a heart attack occurs. Another cause of a heart attack is the spasming of coronary arteries. This results in blood flow to the heart being cut off. Myocardial infarct ions can also result due to issues with the tiny blood vessels that go to the heart. Other causes of heart attacks include:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Arrhythmias
  • Shock
  • Electrolyte Imbalance
  • Hemorrhage
  • Injury
  • Electrocution
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Hypoxia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Drug Addiction
  • Iron Deficiency
  • Poisoning
  • Congenital Abnormalities
  • High Cholesterol
  • Sleep Apnea

Medications to Treat Heart Attacks

Nitroglycerin is a common treatment to increase the flow of blood to the heart. Simple aspirin or heparin helps to prevent clots from forming. Streptokinas, Anisoylated plasminogen-streptokinas activator complex and Tissue palminogen are all used to break up clots. Morphine is typically used to combat the pain and Benzodiazepines are administered to decrease anxiety. Beta Blockers are used to help decrease the size of the damaged heart muscle thereby lowering the changes of another myocardial infarction.

Prevention of a Heart Attack

Preventing myocardial infarctions is just a matter of good common sense. Quit smoking and drink alcohol in moderation. Stay active and eat a diet high in fiber and antioxidants but low in fat and salt. Treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure with the appropriate medications. Finally try to reduce stress at home and in the workplace.

Risk Factors of Heart Attacks

There are several risk factors that can indicate increased likelihood of heart attacks. The couch potato who is overweight, does not exercise and indulges in a high fat or high salt diet is at risk for a heart attack. Individuals with heart disease, angina or who have had a previous heart attack are also high risk. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes can also cause myocardial infarct ions. Smokers and those who are addicted to narcotics are also at risk. Finally there is a genetic correlation. Individuals who have heart disease in their family are more likely to experience a heart attack.

Symptoms of a Myocardial Infarction

One of the first warning signs of a myocardial infarction is pain in the middle of the chest. This discomfort can feel like pressure or a squeezing sensation. The patient can also feel pain in the stomach, jaw, back, neck or the arms. Shortness of breath can also accompany a heart attack. Someone suffering a myocardial infarction may also feel nauseous, become clammy or experience dizziness. Women tend to feel jaw and back pain during a heart attack much more than men. They also tend to have shortness of breath and vomiting.

Treatment for Myocardial Infarctions

Treatment for a heart attack usually starts in the emergency room beginning with oxygen and stabilization of the vital signs. Stabilization means possible CPR, defibrillation or other advance life support activities. Mechanical ventilation may be required if the patient is not breathing. Heart enzymes as well as vital signs are continuously monitored. Medications may be used too. Surgery to remove blood clots, called angioplasty, may occur, or a stent may be inserted to keep an artery open to blood flow. In extreme cases an arterial bypass is required where new arteries are grafted to go around the blocked artery.