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How Do Heart Attacks Occur?

    How Do Heart Attacks Occur?

    A heart attack is also referred to as a myocardial infarction (mi). “Myo” stands for muscle, “cardial” stands for the heart, and “infarction” means the death of tissue as a result of a sudden blockage of one or more coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle.

    Heart Attack Warning Signs

    One of the most frequent types of discomfort is chest pain. It can feel like it extends from your chest to your arms (typically the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back, and stomach. It can also make you feel faint or dizzy, making you sweat.

    Heart attack symptoms include:

    • Indigestion
    • A choking sensation
    • Cool, clammy sweats
    • An upset stomach
    • Vomiting
    • Dizziness
    • Extreme weakness
    • Anxiety
    • Fatigue,
    • Shortness of breath
    • A rapid or uneven heartbeat.

    Women are more likely to experience the following heart attack symptoms than males. However, symptoms might vary from person to person or from one heart attack to another:

    • Unusual tiredness
    • Breathlessness
    • Nauseousness or vomiting
    • Faintness or dizziness
    • Abdominal discomfort that seems like indigestion
    • Discomfort in the neck, shoulder, or upper back

    If you have diabetes, you are more likely to experience a “silent” myocardial infarction, in which case you won’t experience any symptoms.


    Angina is not a condition or disease; it is a symptom that occasionally can indicate a heart attack. The symptoms include chest pain, which points to heaviness in the chest area (the most common sign), as well as pain or discomfort in the shoulder, arm, back, neck, or jaw. Nitroglycerin can relieve some of these symptoms.

    Doctors refer to your chest pain as “unstable angina” if it worsens, lasts longer than five minutes, or doesn’t go away after you’ve taken nitroglycerin. This is a serious condition that could be associated with an impending heart attack.

    If you have “stable” angina, the most common type, your symptoms will typically occur in response to predictable triggers, such as:

    • Intense emotion
    • Physical activity
    • Extremely hot or cold temperatures
    • After a heavy meal


    It’s true that angina has several possible causes (like coronary artery disease), but since it can point to a heart attack, especially when it occurs suddenly or unexpectedly, it’s best to treat chest pain as an emergency and head to the nearest hospital

    Cause of Heart Attack

    When your blood supply is cut off, you will experience a heart attack. Fat, calcium, proteins, and inflammatory cells can build up in your arteries to form plaques, which are hard on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. Your coronary arteries provide your heart with this vital blood supply. If you have coronary artery disease, those arteries narrow, and blood can’t flow as well as it should.

    A blood clot can also form when a plaque ruptures, blocking the artery and causing a heart attack. If a blood clot stops your artery, your heart muscle is starved for oxygen and soon dies, resulting in lasting damage.

    Rarely, a coronary artery spasm can also lead to a heart attack. During this condition, your arteries constrict or spasm intermittently, cutting off the blood flow to your heart muscle (ischemia).

    Can Heart Attacks be Prevented?

    After a heart attack, the objective is to maintain heart health and reduce the risk of having another heart attack. To do this, you should follow all medication instructions, adopt a healthy lifestyle, and visit your doctor for routine heart exams.

    Following a heart attack, you may take medications to stop blood clots, improve heart function, and stop plaque buildup by decreasing cholesterol. Your doctor may also recommend drugs to manage heart failure, blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and control chest pain.

    Know the names of your medications, their intended uses, and the appropriate times to take them. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your drugs. It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to take your drugs as directed by your doctor. Keep a record of all your medications and bring it with you to every doctor’s appointment.

    Here are some lifestyle changes you may make to lower your risk and start living a heart-healthy life:

    Stop smoking

    Since secondhand smoke can also cause heart disease, talk to your doctor about ways to stop. Smoking significantly increases your risk of both heart attacks and strokes.

    Maintain a healthy weight

    If you are overweight or obese, you don’t need to drop a lot of weight to lessen your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. If you lose just 5% to 10% of your body weight, your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol will all go down, which helps overall health.

    Incorporate regular exercise

    Your risk of having a heart attack is reduced by moderate physical activity, which can also lower blood pressure, increase hdl or “good” cholesterol, and help you maintain a healthy weight.

    Aim for 30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise at least five days a week. Brisk walking and swimming are two terrific options. On the other two days, practice strength training, such as lifting weights. If you have a busy schedule, divide your exercise program up into manageable chunks.

    Consume a heart-healthy diet

    Eat a heart-healthy diet by including the following:

    • A variety of fruits, vegetables
    • Beans
    • Lean meats, such as poultry without the skin
    • Whole grains, such as oatmeal and quinoa
    • Fish, particularly those with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring
    • Avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds, some nuts, and seeds also contain omega-3s
    • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
    • Reduce your intake of unhealthy foods by avoiding processed or prepared foods, which are frequently full of preservatives and rich in salt and added sugar
    • Fried meals, palm oil, fatty steak, butter, and other foods high in saturated fats should all be avoided
    • Avoid packaged baked goods like cookies, cakes, and pies, which are high in trans fats and can boost your cholesterol levels
    • Avoid sugary drinks like soda and fruit punch, all of which can cause weight gain.
    • Limit alcohol intake: If you don’t currently drink, don’t start. If you do, the advice is no more than one drink for women and two for men per day; drinking elevates your heart rate and blood pressure

    Monitor conditions

    Obtain routine assessments of your blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol levels. Keep an eye on these figures to ensure that you stay within normal ranges. If you have diabetes, make sure it is under control.

    Pay attention to your symptoms and get medical assistance if you experience anything unexpected, such as shortness of breath, changes in your heart rhythm, or excessive exhaustion. You should also keep an eye out for any back or jaw discomfort, nausea or vomiting, sweating, or flu-like symptoms.

    Manage stress

    To manage stress, talk to a mental health professional or ask your doctor about a stress management program. You can also reduce stress with exercise, yoga and meditation. You may feel anxious or frustrated at times, so talk to your family and friends about what’s going on. Support groups can also help you learn how others have adjusted to life after a heart attack or stroke.

    When Should I See My Doctor?

    Make a doctor’s appointment 4 to 6 weeks after you leave the hospital after a heart attack. Your doctor will monitor your recovery and may require routine exercise stress tests to help identify or treat coronary artery blockages. If you experience symptoms like irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness, or chest discomfort that occurs more frequently, worsens, lasts longer, or spreads to other regions, call your doctor at once.

    Key Takeaways

    A heart attack occurs when an artery that sends blood and oxygen to the heart is blocked. Fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits build up over time, forming plaques in the heart’s arteries. If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form. The clot can block arteries, causing a heart attack. The most common sign of a heart attack is chest discomfort or pain, which can spread to your arms, neck, jaw, or back. Chest discomfort or pain can last for several minutes or come and go. A heart attack requires emergency treatment to restore blood flow to your heart.

    Learn more about Heart Failure here.


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    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


    Heart attack, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106, Accessed September 7, 2022

    Heart attack (myocardial infarction), https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16818-heart-attack-myocardial-infarction, Accessed September 7, 2022

    Life after a heart attack, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/life-after-a-heart-attack, Accessed September 7, 2022

    Recovering from a heart attack, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/recovery/, Accessed September 7, 2022

    Tips for Recovering and Staying Well After a Heart Attack, https://familydoctor.org/tips-for-recovering-and-staying-well/, Accessed September 7, 2022

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    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel Updated 2 weeks agoMedically reviewed by Lauren Labrador, MD, FPCP, DPCC
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