The brain is the coordinating centre of the body while the heart is like the engine room. The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood round the body, enabling the organs and tissues to receive oxygen and food nutrients for metabolism to take place. Just as it supplies blood, the heart itself also needs blood, oxygen and nutrients to keep its muscle alive and functional.
In certain situations, the flow of blood to the muscle of the heart can become blocked due to formation of a clot in the artery and veins of the heart muscle. Without blood, heart tissue loses oxygen and dies. When this happens, heart attack happens. In essence, a heart attack is a life-threatening medical emergency.
Symptoms of heart attack include tightness or pain in the chest, neck, back or arms, as well as fatigue, lightheadedness (dizziness), abnormal heartbeat and anxiety. Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms than men.
When heart attack occurs, the key to recovery is to get the flow of blood restored quickly. That is why is absolutely necessary people recognise the early signs of heart attack and take necessary steps to get medical aid.
Causes of heart attack
Over time, cholesterol and a fatty material called plaque can build up on the walls inside blood vessels (arteries) that take blood to the heart. This makes it harder for blood to flow freely. Most heart attacks happen when a piece of this plaque breaks off. A blood clot forms around the broken-off plaque, and it blocks the artery.
You may feel pain, pressure, or discomfort in your chest. You could be short of breath, sweat, faint, or feel sick to your stomach. Your neck, jaw, or shoulders might hurt. Men and women can have different symptoms. Men are more likely to break out in a cold sweat and to feel pain move down their left arm.
Symptoms in women
Women are more likely than men to have back or neck pain, heartburn, and shortness of breath. They tend to have stomach trouble, including feeling queasy and throwing up. They may also feel very tired, lightheaded, or dizzy. A couple of weeks before a heart attack, a woman might have flu-like symptoms and sleep problems. Symptoms can be so mild they’re dismissed as something minor.
What to do
If you or someone you’re with shows symptoms that might be a heart attack, rush the person to a hospital right away. If it is a heart attack, the person is more likely to survive if you get treated within 90 minutes. The person who is showing symptoms of heart attack should be given one table of aspirin to chew and swallow (except if the person is allergic it) while being taken to the hospital. The essence of the aspirin is to lower the risk of a blood clot. If the person is conscious, then you should perform hands-only CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), which can double the chances of the victim surviving the attack.
An EKG, which checks your heart’s electrical activity, can help doctors see if you’re having a heart attack. It can also show which artery is clogged or blocked. Doctors can also diagnose a heart attack with blood tests that look for proteins that heart cells release when they die.
Doctors will move quickly to restore the flow of blood to your heart. You may get drugs that dissolve blood clots in your arteries. You’ll likely get a procedure called a coronary angiogram. Doctors put a thin tube with a balloon on the end through your artery. It opens up the blockage by flattening the plaque in your arteries. Most times, doctors place a small mesh tube called a stent in your artery to make sure it stays open.
What puts you at risk?
Your odds of having a heart attack go up with age, and men are more likely to have one than women. A family history of heart disease also makes one more likely. Smoking raises your chances of a heart attack. So does having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being obese. Stress, a lack of exercise, and depression can, too.
If you smoke, stop. It will immediately cut your chances of a heart attack by a third. Get exercise and eat right. Eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep your arteries healthy.
For some people, taking a daily aspirin will help. Talk to your doctor to see if it’s right for you.
Also, find positive ways to manage your stress.
Life after a heart attack
If you’re in the hospital, you may come home after just a few days. You can get back to your normal daily life in a few weeks. Cardiac rehab can help you recover. You’ll get your own fitness programme and learn how to keep up a heart-healthy lifestyle.