Approximately 7 million people around the world die from heart attacks every year, and cardiovascular disease, which causes heart attacks and other problems like strokes, is the world’s leading killer.
What Causes A Heart Attack
The heart, like all the other muscles in your body, needs oxygen. During a heart attack, your heart can’t get enough oxygen. This happens because of fatty deposits, or plaques that develop on the walls of the heart’s coronary arteries over time and that can eventually lead to blockages.
Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to the heart. Over time, as we age, these plaques grow thicker and become hardened or inflamed.
The oxygen-starved cells start to die within minutes after blood flow is cut off to the cardiac muscle due to the blockage. This event is known as myocardial infarction, or a heart attack.
The situation can deteriorate rapidly if treatment is not rendered in a short period of time. In addition, the injured heart muscles may not be able to pump enough blood and the heart’s rhythm might be thrown off. If the heart attack is severe enough, it can cause sudden death.
What Are The Symptoms of A Heart Attack
So, it is important to react quickly. The most common symptom is chest pain caused by the oxygen-deprived heart muscles. Patients describe it as crushing or vice-like pain. The pain can radiate to the left arm, jaw, back or abdomen.
One thing to keep in mind is that pain as a result of a heart attack is not always as sudden and dramatic as depicted on TV. Some people only experience nausea or shortness of breath. Symptoms in women and the elderly may be less prominent. So, even weakness and tiredness may be a signal of a heart attack. A heart attack can be silent too, especially in people who have diabetes and other diseases that affect the nerves that transmit pain.
How You Should Respond To A Heart Attack
If you think that someone is having a heart attack, the most important thing is to respond quickly. Call 9-11 so emergency medical services can arrive and provide the fastest means to transport the patient to the hospital.
Taking aspirin, which thins the blood, and nitroglycerin, which opens up the artery, can help keep the heart attack from getting worse.
How A Heart Attack Is Medically Treated
Once the patient arrives in the emergency room, doctors and nurses can diagnose the heart attacks and begin treatment. They will commonly use an electrocardiogram to measure the heart’s electrical activity and a blood test to assess heart muscle damage.
The patient will then be taken to a high-tech cardiac unit where tests will be done to locate where the blockages are. Cardiologists can reopen the blocked artery by inflating it with a balloon in a procedure called an angioplasty. Frequently, they also insert a metal or polymer stent that will hold the artery open.
If the blockage is more extensive, coronary artery bypass surgery might be required. Heart surgeons can use a piece of vein or artery from another part of the body to reroute blood flow around the blockage. These procedures can reestablish circulation to the cardiac muscle and restore heart function.
How To Prevent A Heart Attack
While medical treatment of heart attack patients is advancing, your best bet is prevention. Both genetics and lifestyle play a role in your risk for a heart attack. The good news is that even if you are at a higher risk for a heart attack, by changing your lifestyle through a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss, you can lower your risk of a future heart attack.
Doctors recommend that you exercise a 3-5 times a week, doing both cardiovascular exercise and weight training. Implement a diet that is low in sugar and low in saturated fats; both sugar and saturated fats are linked to heart disease.
Try to eat a meals with more fiber-rich vegetables, lean chicken and fish instead of fatty red meat, more whole grains instead of white carbs and more walnuts and almonds. Medications can help prevent heart attacks as well. Doctors often prescribe low-dose aspirin for patients who are at high risk for a heart attack.
Drugs that help manage the conditions that can lead to a heart attack such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes are important in a heart attack prevention plan as well.
While heart attacks may be common nowadays, they don’t have to be inevitable for you. By maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco, staying fit, keeping stress low and getting sufficient sleep should help keep your heart strong and healthy.