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Heart Attack: Brief Version

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when blood flow to a part of your heart muscle is suddenly blocked.

Sometimes heart attacks happen when the heart needs more oxygen than the blood vessels can provide. This might happen, for example, during hard exercise such as shoveling snow.

The heart is a muscle like other muscles in your body. It needs oxygen, which it gets from the blood in blood vessels. The blood vessels that bring blood to the heart are called coronary arteries. A blood clot in one of these arteries can block the flow of blood to the heart muscle. Then the heart stops working right. If the block lasts for many minutes, part of the heart can be injured.

The risk of a heart attack gets higher as you get older. Plaques (patches of cholesterol) may form in the arteries. The plaques can break open and form a blood clot. The blood clot can block blood flow to the heart. Plaque also makes the arteries narrower inside. Blood clots may form more easily in a narrowed artery and block it.

Both men and women have heart attacks.

What are the symptoms?

You may:

  • Feel pressure or pain in your chest.
  • Feel pain in your arm, back, neck, or jaw.
  • Feel short of breath.
  • Sweat.
  • Have an upset stomach or stomach pain.
  • Feel weak or lightheaded.

You can have a heart attack when you are resting or when you are exercising. You may think you just have an upset stomach. However, it's important to get medical help as soon as you can. If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 right away. Don't wait.

How is it diagnosed?

The healthcare provider checks you over. He or she will ask what you are feeling and about your medical history. You may have some tests to see how well your heart is working. You may have blood tests to see if there has been any heart damage.

How is it treated?

You may stay in the hospital about 2 to 6 days.

  • You may be in an intensive care unit.
  • Your healthcare provider will give you medicine for blood clots.
  • You will probably be given other medicines to prevent damage to your heart.
  • You may be given oxygen to make it easier for you to breathe.
  • You may need to have an operation to open up or go around the blocked area of the artery.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow your healthcare provider's treatment plan.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Keep your cholesterol at a normal level.
  • Keep your blood pressure normal.
  • Lose weight if you need to. Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Start exercise when your healthcare provider says it's OK. Increase your exercise according to your provider's directions.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Carry your medicine with you. Learn how to take it. It will help to have a list of the names of each medicine and how much and when you should take it.
  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for taking your medicines and having follow-up appointments.

Get specific instructions from your healthcare provider on how to take care of yourself when you have chest pain, including:

  • What medicines you should take.
  • When to call your provider.
  • When to call 911.

Getting help right away when you are having a heart attack improves your chances of staying alive. It may also help keep your heart from being damaged.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-05-03
Last reviewed: 2010-12-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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