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What is a heart attack anyway?

A heart attack is one the most common and feared medical conditions that can affect us or someone we love. While all of us have heard about this condition and know that it can be deadly, many of us do not know what it is or understand the long term consequences. This brief article includes some basic information about heart attacks, how they occur, and how they affect us.

Heart Attack

The heart is a muscle and therefore needs a constant supply of blood to keep functioning. A heart attack occurs when an artery is blocked from supplying blood to a specific section of the heart.  The lack of blood flow to that portion of the heart can cause the muscle in that area to die, causing the heart to become weaker. If more than one artery gets blocked, then larger portions of the heart will die. Symptoms of a heart attack can vary depending on the individual, and unlike sudden cardiac arrest, signs of a heart attack may appear gradually and can persist over the course of a few days, to a few weeks.  Symptoms of a heart attack can include shortness of breath, extreme or sharp chest pain, cold sweats, and nausea/vomiting.  Symptoms of a heart attack may also be different depending on gender. Studies have shown women may experience what are known as atypical symptoms which may include back or jaw pain.  

Long term effects

Decreased blood supply to areas of the heart can cause the heart to become weaker. This leads to less blood being pumped to the body. When the heart is unable to adequately pump blood to all the organs that need it, those organs are then unable to function properly. This condition of a weakened heart that does not supply the body adequately is known as “heart failure.” A weakened heart can therefore lead to kidney failure, liver failure, gastrointestinal disorders and other issues. It is not uncommon to see patients who have suffered a heart attack to later develop other issues over time.

What To Do

If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately. Time is critical, and the sooner a person receives treatment, the better the outcomes.