During a heart attack, the blood flow to the heart muscle is either reduced or completely stops. This typically happens because of a blood clot that is blocking an artery. When the heart muscle does not get oxygen-rich blood, it ceases to work.
Some common heart attack symptoms
• A heart attack often causes chest pain.
• There is a feeling of fullness or a clasping pain in the center of the chest. Most victims describe the pain as akin to an elephant standing on the chest (extreme pain). It usually lasts for about 15 minutes.
• One also experiences shooting pain in the shoulders, neck, arm, back and sometimes even the teeth and jaw.
• One finds increasing episodes of chest pain.
• Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen.
• Shortness of breath.
• The victim might experience heavy sweating.
• Since the heart’s pumping action is severely impaired during a severe heart attack, the victim might lose his/her consciousness.
* In rare cases, as in patients who are diabetic, the heart attack may not be very painful, and sometimes can even be entirely painless.
Some symptoms that may also appear include:
• Pain in the abdomen
• Heart burn
• Unusual tiredness
• Tightness or pain in the neck, shoulders or upper back
A heart attack is different from cardiac arrest
Do not confuse a heart attack with cardiac arrest. In the case of cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops. It occurs due to an electrical disturbance that obstructs the heart’s pumping function, which results in stopping blood flow to the rest of the body. Below are two fact files detailing the differences between a heart attack and cardiac arrest:
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Fact File
SCA is a chaotic electrical condition of the heart resulting in the loss of blood flow to the brain and body. The most common form of SCA is ventricular fibrillation.
Electrical impulses of the heart become chaotic due to a blow to the chest or other (sometimes-unknown) health-related issues. As a result, the heart stops beating regularly and begins to flutter rapidly.
Typically, there are no symptoms of SCA. Usually, the first indication of SCA is when the victim faints. The second sign is breathing cessation.
A sudden cardiac arrest victim always loses consciousness from lack of oxygen.
A victim of SCA will die unless treated. If left untreated, the chances of survival decrease by 10% per minute. Typically, permanent brain damage occurs within 5-7 minutes.
The only treatment for SCA is defibrillation from an automated external defibrillator (AED). A shock from the AED stops the chaotic electrical activity and allows the heart's sinus node to resume a normal electrical impulse.
Heart Attack Fact File
The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction: a blockage of the coronary arteries leading to a decrease in blood flow. When this happens, the heart muscles die or become permanently damaged.
Plaque made of cholesterol and other cells builds up in the walls of the heart’s arteries. When the build-up is great enough, the plaque creates a blockage, known as an occlusion, which restricts the blood supply to the heart muscle.
Warning signs of a heart attack include a tightening feeling in the chest, a sore or numb left arm, lower back, neck, and/or jaw. Other signs include bad indigestion, a feeling that something heavy is sitting on your chest, and shortness of breath.
The victim of a heart attack is usually conscious and alert.
Risk of Death
Most victims can recover fully and lead normal lives, but about a third of heart attacks are deadly. A heart attack can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
One treatment of a heart attack can be angioplasty, which opens up the blocked vessels with a medical balloon. Afterwards, a stent can be placed in the artery to help keep it open. Other treatments include clot-busting drugs called thrombolytics or nitroglycerin to reduce chest pain.
So, remember this information, and most of all, remember the ABCs of heart care: Avoiding Tobacco, stress and fatty foods, Being more active and Choosing the right nutrition and lifestyle that will keep your heart healthy!