The heart works 24 hours a day, pumping oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body. Blood is supplied to the heart through its coronary arteries. If a blood clot suddenly blocks a coronary artery, it cuts off most or all blood supply to the heart, and a heart attack results. Cells in the heart muscle that do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.
Having a heart attack is a big wakeup call for most people. There's usually no problem convincing a heart attack survivor to change his or her lifestyle-to quit smoking, control their high blood pressure and cholesterol, control their weight and get regular physical activity.
Each year, more than one million people in the U.S. have a heart attack and about half - 515,000 - of them die. Half of those who die do so within one hour of the start of symptoms and before reaching the hospital.
A heart attack is an emergency. Call emergency services if you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack. Prompt treatment of a heart attack can help prevent or limit damage to the heart and prevent sudden death.
It is important to call emergency services fast - within 5 minutes - because emergency personnel can give a variety of treatments and medicines at the scene. They carry drugs and equipment that can help your medical condition, including
- aspirin to prevent further blood clotting
- heart medications, such as nitroglycerin
- pain relief treatments
- defibrillators that can restart the heart if it stops beating.
If blood flow in the blocked artery can be restored quickly, permanent heart damage may be prevented. Yet, many people do not seek medical care for 2 hours or more after symptoms start. The symptoms of a heart attack can include chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.
The most common symptom of heart attack is chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It can be mild or severe. Heart attack pain can sometimes feel like indigestion or heartburn.
Discomfort can also occur in other areas of the upper body, including pain or numbness in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Shortness of breath often happens along with, or before chest discomfort. Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, having nausea and vomiting, or feeling light-headed or dizzy or fainting.
Signs and symptoms vary from person to person. In fact, if you have a second heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same as the first heart attack. Some people have no symptoms. This is called a "silent" heart attack.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough blood. Angina symptoms can be very similar to heart attack symptoms. If you have angina and notice a sudden change or worsening of your symptoms, talk with your doctor right away.
If you think you may be having a heart attack, or if your angina pain does not go away as usual when you take your angina medication as directed, call emergency services for help. You can begin to receive life saving treatment in the ambulance on the way to the emergency room.