Heart Attack Causes, Risk Factors and Symptoms
A heart attack is the heart’s way of letting you know it needs oxygen — fast. When a heart attack occurs, a portion of the heart receives little to no oxygen-rich blood because, typically, a clot in an artery of the heart has slowed or halted blood flow. Consequences are swift: Within minutes, the affected portion of the heart can start to experience damage, which makes quick treatment essential.
A procedure to restore blood flow to the blocked artery can be lifesaving. The heart is resilient — with proper, timely treatment, it’s likely to heal, although it may be weaker than before. Adopting heart-healthy habits can help prevent another heart attack.
While the medical professionals in the ER at McKenzie Williamette Medical Center are ready to care for you when a heart attack occurs, your cardiologist at McKenzie Heart Group can help you prevent or manage your condition and learn more about your heart attack risk moving forward.
Causes of a Heart Attack
Coronary artery disease (CAD) causes most heart attacks. The defining feature of CAD is plaque accumulation in the arteries of the heart, which takes place over years as a result of a process called atherosclerosis. As more and more plaque builds up, the arteries narrow. If a piece of plaque separates, it can form a blood clot in the artery, which may block the passage of blood.
A coronary artery spasm or tear can also cause a heart attack, but that’s far less common than a CAD-related heart attack.
Risk Factors for a Heart Attack
Fortunately, most heart attack risk factors are within your power to change; notable exceptions are aging and a family history of early heart disease. Modifiable risk factors include:
- a diet high in fatty, salty foods
- a sedentary lifestyle
- chronic conditions linked to heart attack and CAD, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity
Heart Attack Symptoms
If you have a heart attack, you’re likely to feel pain or pressure in the center or left side of your chest. Other symptoms you may experience include:
- a cold sweat
- discomfort in any part of your upper body ranging from jaw to stomach
- extreme fatigue
- shortness of breath
Heart attack symptoms vary between individuals and can be different for men and women. Women are more likely to have difficulty breathing, feel nauseated and experience discomfort in the back or jaw.
If you experience any symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately so emergency medical personnel can respond and take you to the nearest emergency room (ER). Calling 911 is the quickest, safest way to set the diagnostic and treatment process in motion. The faster you receive treatment, the less damage your heart is likely to sustain.
Heart Attack Diagnosis
In the ER, physicians, nurses and other providers will work quickly to confirm a diagnosis of heart attack and administer treatment. In addition to asking about your symptoms and health history, an emergency medicine physician may order:
- an electrocardiogram, which checks the heart’s electrical activity and can reveal damage from a potential heart attack
- blood tests to check for markers of a heart attack in the blood
Treatment for Heart Attack
Upon arrival in the ER, you will likely receive medications to reduce discomfort and prevent more blood clots from forming. You may also receive oxygen therapy.
To check for blockages in your arteries, you may undergo coronary angiography, a catheter-based procedure in which a physician sends dye into the coronary arteries and watches it flow using X-rays. If a blockage is apparent, the physician will restore blood flow by sending a balloon-tipped tube through the catheter and inflating the balloon to press plaque against the artery wall — a procedure called coronary angioplasty. The physician may also place a hollow tube called a stent in the artery to keep it open.
Having a heart attack increases your risk for another, so it’s important to make changes to your habits that will benefit your heart. Meeting with a cardiologist at McKenzie Heart Group to discuss your risk and heart attack prevention is an excellent next step for your heart health.
For more information about heart issues and procedures, or to make an appointment, call 541-744-6172. And, learn about your risks for cardiovascular disease by taking our Heart Health Risk Assessment. Learn what your risks are and find recommended next steps for prevention and healing.
960 North 16th Street
Springfield, OR 97477