What Is a Heart Attack?

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.

Figure A: A heart with dead heart muscle caused by a heart attack. Figure B: Cross-section of a coronary artery with plaque buildup and a blood clot.

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.

With highly-trained medical crews, emergency cardiac medications and specialized equipment like the ZOLL Propaq MD cardiac monitor-defibrillator, Angel MedFlight medically transfers heart attack survivors, heart failure patients, heart transplant candidates – even the most fragile neonatal cardiac patients.

Sources: National Heart Lung & Blood Institute, National Center for Biotechnology Information

Wearing Red for Women

Angel MedFlight Employees Wear Red to Show Support for Women's Heart Disease Awareness

You may be seeing red today, and a lot of it.  That’s because it’s National Wear Red Day.  Americans across the nation, including employees at Angel MedFlight, are wearing red to show their support for women’s heart disease awareness.

Heart disease is the number one killer and health threat for women.  The American Heart Association started the Go Red for Women movement to help women fight back against heart disease and to educate them about their health risks.  According to the reports, statistics and researches, one in four American women dies of heart disease and that 90% of women have at least one health risk.

Even the Men Find a way to Show their Support for Women's Heart Disease Awareness

To learn if you are at risk visit the American Heart Association website.

To get involved in heart disease prevention, learn more about the Go Red for Women movement.

Straight to the Heart: American Heart Month

American Heart Month

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.  The most common type is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack.  Other cardiovascular diseases include arrhythmia, heart failure, congenital heart disease and peripheral artery disease (PAD).  Since 1963, Congress has required the president to proclaim February “American Hearth Month” to help raise awareness and urge Americans to join the battle against cardiovascular diseases.

Anyone, at any age, can develop heart disease.  “A build up of plaque in the coronary arteries over time can reduce or block blood flow to the heart, which may result in heart attack,” explains Rose Teskie, Chief Flight Coordinator at Angel MedFlight.  “But, people can reduce their chances of developing heart disease by taking a few simple steps to prevent and control factors that put them at risk and by knowing the signs and symptoms associated with heart attack.”

Risk Factors:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Inactivity

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that lasts more than a couple of minutes, or that goes aways and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath.  Feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest.
  • Nausea, light-headedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Preventing Heart Disease:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking.  If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.
  • Check your cholesterol.
  • Treat and manage your diabetes.

While heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, women account for nearly 50% of these deaths. There are many ‘Women and Heart Disease Campaigns’ to create awareness including Go Red for Women, The Heart Truth Campaign and National Wear Red Day.  Employees of Angel MedFlight invite you to participate in National Wear Red Day to show your support for women’s heart disease awareness, by wearing a red shirt, dress, tie, pants or just a pin on February 5, 2010.

For more information on heart disease visit the sites:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

American Heart Association

*** All Angel MedFlight nurse flight coordinators are licensed nurses and case managers.