The Heart Attack

  • Apr 01, 2016
  • Medical Conditions

Pink Cut Out Heart Shapes On Pink Background

What is a heart attack?

A condition in which the blood supply to the heart is obstructed. An area of the heart that is starved of oxygen which results in the cells in that part of the heart starting to die. The term Myocardial means about heart muscle and Infarction means dying cells.

Whilst this is a very serious condition, some people suffer a small heart attack without any significant symptoms. The most extreme form of heart attack is where enough of the heart muscle is affected to the point where the heart loses its natural rhythm, and stops beating effectively, this is a cardiac arrest.

Key symptoms of a heart attack

  • Chest Pain - which can be like a heavy weight or crushing feeling across the chest like a band. Often this can feel like bad indigestion. Rarely there can be no pain at all with just slight discomfort (silent MI).
  • Pain Spreading - discomfort or pain spreading to the jaw, left arm or back.
  • Feeling dizzy and/or short of breath - people often report feeling like they are going to die. Important not to get caught out by a significant number only feeling mild discomfort.
  • Appearance is sometimes grey and clammy or sweaty.

Causes of a heart attack

There are several causes of a heart attack but the most common  is a blockage in the arteries in the heart muscle itself, these blockages or clots can be partial causing Angina (Heart Pain) or total resulting in an myocardial infarction which is permanent  damage to the heart.

Smoking increases risk significantly, drinking excessively is another problem, as it is the lack of exercise or being overweight. High cholesterol is a significant risk factor (as a result of poor diet or other factors) and high blood pressure is a good indicator that you are at a high risk. Stress & sudden exertion can be a trigger. A family history of heart disease also increases your risk.

How common is a heart attack?

Heart attack is the most common preventable cause of death in the UK. Rather than worry about the very real danger of suffering a heart attack, the advice  is to reduce your risk factors. Your GP can monitor your cholesterol levels and offer advice regarding diet and exercise if found to be high. Should diet, which can include foods designed to reduce  cholesterol, and exercise fail, there are very effective drugs called Statins that can help reduce cholesterol, but these are not without side effects so prevention is preferable. Blood pressure is often best reduced via exercise and weight loss to ensure you have a good BMI or body mass.

How is a heart attack treated?

There have been great advances in the treatment of Myocardial Infarction or Heart Attacks since the millennium. These include taking 300Mg of Aspirin (if not allergic) as soon as symptoms start. Public information in to the need to dial 999 as soon as symptoms are felt is vital.

Ambulance crews can do an ECG tracing of the heart muscle, which can show changes in the condition of the heart muscle in real time. If a Heart Attack is suspected A&E is bypassed and transfer is direct to a coronary care department that can act immediately to remove the blockage via placing a very thin wire like device in the artery in the heart from a limb and removing the clot (this is known as PCI or Percutaneous Coronary Intervention)

Should the heart stop before treatment can be given, it is important that anyone around performs CPR (even if only by pressing fast and hard on the chest at 100 beats per minute) and getting the heart shocked back to a normal rhythm as soon as possible. Many public places and communities have automatic external defibrillators available to restart hearts and they are as easy to use as a fire extinguisher.

What are the complications of a heart attack?

The biggest complication is Cardiac Arrest where the heart stops.

Other complications are mainly due to the drugs used to control the symptoms and control the risk factors.