The heart is a muscle like any other in the body. Arteries supply it with oxygen-rich blood so that it can contract and push blood to the rest of the body. When there isn't enough oxygen flow to a muscle, its function begins to suffer. Block the oxygen supply completely, and the muscle starts to die.
Symptoms of Heart Attack
1. Chest Pain or Chest Discomfort
Few symptoms are more alarming than chest pain. In the minds of many people, chest pain equals heart pain. And while many other conditions can cause chest pain, cardiac disease is so common - and so dangerous - that the symptom of chest pain should never be dismissed out of hand as being insignificant.
2. Heart Palpitations
Palpitations, an unusual awareness of the heartbeat, is an extremely common symptom. Most people who complain of palpitations describe them either as "skips" in the heartbeat (that is, a pause, often followed by a particularly strong beat,) or as periods of rapid and/or irregular heartbeats.
3. Lightheadedness or Dizziness
Episodes of lightheadedness or dizziness can have many causes, including anemia (low blood count) and other blood disorders, dehydration, viral illnesses, prolonged bed rest, diabetes, thyroid disease, gastrointestinal disturbances, liver disease, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disorders, dysautonomias, vasovagal episodes, heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias. Because so many different conditions can produce these symptoms, anybody experiencing episodes of lightheadedness or dizziness ought to have a thorough and complete examination by a physician.
4. Syncope (Fainting/Loss of Consciousness)
Syncope is a sudden and temporary loss of consciousness, or fainting. It is a common symptom - most people pass out at least once in their lives - and often does not indicate a serious medical problem. However, sometimes syncope indicates a dangerous or even life-threatening condition, so when syncope occurs it is important to figure out the cause.
5. Fatigue, Lethargy or Daytime Sleepiness
Fatigue, lethargy or somnolence (daytime sleepiness) are very common symptoms. Fatigue or lethargy can be thought of as an inability to continue functioning at one's normal levels. Somnolence implies, in addition, that one either craves sleep - or worse, finds oneself suddenly asleep, a condition known as narcolepsy - during the daytime.
6. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is most often a symptom of cardiac or pulmonary (lung) disorders. Heart failure and coronary artery disease frequently produce shortness of breath. Patients with heart failure commonly experience shortness of breath with exertion, or when lying flat on their backs. They also can suddenly wake up at night gasping for breath, a condition known as paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. Other cardiac conditions such as valvular heart disease or pericardial disease can produce this symptom, as can cardiac arrhythmias.
Heart Attack Treatment
If the EKG shows that there is an acute heart attack (myocardial infarction), the goal is to open the blocked artery as soon as possible and restore blood supply to the heart muscle.
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When a heart attack strikes, the key thing to remember is that time equals muscle. The longer the delay in seeking medical care, the more heart muscle will be damaged. There is a window of opportunity to restore blood supply to the heart muscle by unblocking the affected heart artery. Treatments must be done in a hospital and include administration of clot-busting drugs to dissolve the clot at the site of the ruptured plaque and heart catheterization and angioplasty (in which the blood vessel is opened by balloon, often with adjunctive placement of a stent), or both.
Not all hospitals have the equipment or cardiologists available to perform emergency heart catheterizations, and thrombolytic therapy (the use of clot-busting drugs) may be the first step to open the blood vessel and return blood supply to the heart muscle.
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