Heart attacks occur most often as a result of coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is a condition in which atheroma plaques build up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply the heart with oxygen. Plaques build up in the arteries over many years.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow loaded with oxygen does not reach a portion of the heart muscle. If blood flow is not restored immediately, that section of muscle will be damaged irreparably.
Signs and symptoms prior to heart attack
Not all myocardial infarctions begin with a chest pain. In several studies, one-third of the participants who suffered a heart attack did not report any preceding chest pain. Note that the vast majority of subjects who reported no chest pain before the heart attack were older people, female or people suffering from diabetes.
Signs and symptoms that precede a heart attack are not the same in all people. The first sign of heart attack can be a mild pain or minimal discomfort. In some people, symptoms do not appear. Heart attacks which do not have any specific or intense expressions are called silent myocardial infarctions.
– Pain or discomfort in the chest. The most common symptom that precedes heart attack is pain or discomfort in the chest area. This event includes the occurrence of new or changes in pain intensity of pain already present. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest, which persists for several minutes or intermittently. The discomfort can feel like a pressure, fullness or pain in the chest.
Persistent chest pain that occur even when you rest, may be signs of a heart attack. Any person suffering from such pain must go to the doctor for inspection as soon as possible.
– Indigestion. Sometimes, pain during heart attack may feel as an indigestion or burns.
– Angina. The symptoms of angina can be similar to those of a heart attack. Angina is chest pain that occurs in people with coronary artery disease. These pains often occur when persons are more active and linger a few minutes, then disappear completely.
Other signs and symptoms of myocardial infarction
– Pain in the upper body. The pain may spread to the shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. It is possible to suffer a heart attack which presents symptoms involving only the upper body.
– Shortness of breath. Often, people who have a heart attack show this symptom. Most times may be the only sign, without the other symptoms.
– Anxiety. Affected people may have a state of anxiety for no apparent reason, which can occur several hours before the onset of myocardial infarction.
– Sweat. Suddenly, people who suffer a heart attack start to feel sweaty and clammy skin.
– Nausea and vomiting. In some cases, heart attack is preceded by vomiting or strong stomach discomfort.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
Although most people who experience a heart attack report chest pain, women may experience symptoms different from those of men. Among these are:
- shoulder pain or pain in the upper back;
- teeth or jaw pain;
- unusual fatigue that lasts for several days.
In a large study, involving 1,500 women who had suffered a myocardial infarction, the most commonly reported symptoms were unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, difficulty breathing, indigestion and anxiety. Most women surveyed reported at least one of these symptoms, more than one month before the heart attack.
Silent myocardial infarction
In some people, heart attack begins without any manifestation – in this case, it is the silent heart attack. A silent MI can occur among all patients with increased risk of heart attack, although this type is more common among patients with diabetes. Silent myocardial infarction can be diagnosed during a routine medical examination.
When to seek emergency care
Calling emergency medical service is the best plan because medical staff can evaluate your condition and will be administered, if necessary, oxygen and medicines to increase the chances of survival in case of a heart attack. According to statistics, people who use emergency medical services arrive quickly to the hospital and get immediate attention.
Experts will recommend taking aspirin, if heart attack is in progress. In addition, ambulance paramedics are trained to administer first aid in a professional manner.
Even if you are near a hospital that has an emergency room, you should still ask for ambulance services, rather than to be transported by other means. Patients who arrive at the hospital by ambulance often go directly to the emergency receiving room.
There is another important reason why you need to call emergency and ask for ambulance transport. Often, during or immediately after a heart attack, there may appear complications (eg, arrhythmias) that can be life-threatening. In this situation, you will need cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In addition, if you are in the ambulance, paramedics can use the defibrillator. These actions substantially increase the chances of survival.