Heart attacks are sometimes very obvious and sometimes silent. Knowing what to look for and understanding that it can be a serious matter, will prepare you for when it happens to a loved one, friend, or the person sitting next to you on a plane. A person can have one symtom , many, or none at all. People have gone to the doctor for a check up and after a routine ECG, found that they have had a significant heart attack and not even known it.
A heart attack is not always your heart just stopping, it is when an artery in your heart has become blocked by “plaque” which builds up on the arterial walls. This plaque suddenly breaks free and flows throughout the blood stream until it becomes lodged in a narrow part of the artery. Your heart requires 30% of all the oxygen that you take in, and they way it gets that is through the blood. If one of the arteries becomes partially or fully blocked then proper oxygen exchange to the heart muscle cannot take place. At this point the heart muscle is starving for oxygen so you will feel short of breath, this symtom is because your body is trying to compensate and get more oxygen to the blood stream to feed the oxygen hungry heart. If the part of the heart muscle after the blockage does not get oxygenated blood then that part of the muscle will die. This piece of the muscle that is dying will cause pain in your chest, thus the chest pain. If the person can get emergency help right away, the damage can be slowed down until the person is taken to the emergency room or operating room and the plaque/ clot removed, resuming blood flow to that portion of the heart. This is done by a clot busting medication, or bypass surgery. The bypass surgery takes a piece of artery or vein from another part of the body and attached to the artery before and after the blockage. If there is a great risk of it happening in another location then they will do a double bypass or triple bypass.
Signs and symtoms
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain- this can be mild midsternal pain or crushing (some say “an elephant is sitting on my chest”)
- Pain in the left arm
- pain in the left jaw
- lower back pain
- radiating pain from the chest to the mid back or lower back
- cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness
Some people notice when they exert themselves, ie. shoveling, jogging, cycling, climbing stairs they have shortness of breath and some chest pain or mid chest discomfort. This is called Angina. It is when the arteries in the heart are becoming narrowed from plaque build up and not enough oxegenated blood is getting to the heart. This is treated with a nitroglycerin patch or oral spray. If you find that this happens to you, get to the Doctor and he/she will prescribe you one of the nitroglycerin medications.