As part of our American Heart Month blog series, today we’re getting down to basics. What is a heart attack, what are the symptoms, and what do you do?
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked for a long enough time that part of the heart muscle is damaged or dies. Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries, which bring blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blood flow is blocked, the heart is starved of oxygen and heart cells die.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense (like the movie-scene “Hollywood heart attack”), but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Here are some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.
- Shortness of breath, which may occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs, like nausea, vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness, or breaking out in a cold sweat.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
What Do I Do If I Suspect a Heart Attack?
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Acting fast at the first sign of heart attack can save your life and limit damage to your heart. Get to a hospital right away. Minutes matter!
Don’t be afraid to take action: You are at greatest risk of sudden death in the early hours of a heart attack.
How Can I Help Prevent a Heart Attack?
• Don’t smoke. Avoid second-hand smoke.
• Keep blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol under control.
• Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in animal fat.
• Be physically active.
• Stay at a healthy weight.
• Get regular medical check-ups and take medicine as prescribed.
• Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
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