A heart attack is when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked. The heart tissue gets hurt or dies within a short time after blood flow stops. It may stop working if a large or vital part of the heart is involved.
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Coronary arteries are arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. A heart attack is when blood flow is blocked in them. This may be from:
The amount of tissue that is harmed will depend on which artery is blocked. There are 2 main arteries that split into smaller branches. If a large artery is blocked, it harms a larger part of the heart. If a small vessel is blocked, it harms a smaller part of the heart.
The risk of heart attack is greater in males and older adults.
You have a higher risk of a heart attack if you do not have healthy blood vessels. This may be due to:
Symptoms can differ from person to person. Common ones are:
Signs of a heart attack may happen more often in women. The signs are not as common:
Call for emergency services right away if you think you may be having a heart attack. Early care can stop further damage.
If the doctor suspects a heart attack it may be confirmed with:
More testing may be done to look for any harm or changes to the heart. Tests will be based on your needs. You may have a:
The first goal is to get blood to flow and get oxygen to your heart quickly. You may have:
If you have a blood clot, medicines may be given to try to break it up. The sooner they are given, the better the result. It is best if they are given within the first 6 hours after you have signs of a heart attack.
Surgery may be needed for blood clots that don’t get better with medicine or plaque build up. It may need to be done right away for large blockages or delayed for a few days if there is enough blood flow. The surgeries are:
Cardiac rehabilitation can help you get better after a heart attack. You may be monitored during physical activity in the first few weeks. You may also be taught about diet and lifestyle changes.
A heart attack can be a major life event. It is common for people to have depression after having a heart attack. Therapy and medicine can help.
Your habits play a role in the health of the blood vessels and heart. Here are some healthy heart habits:
Small daily doses of aspirin may help some people lower their risk of heart attack. You should only use aspirin in this way if your doctor says it is okay. Aspirin can cause problems like bleeding in the stomach or intestines. It may also cause problems with other medicines.
American Heart Association
National Stroke Association
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
About heart attacks. American Heart Association website. Available at:
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Updated January 27, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2017.
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7/17/2017 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116779/Acute-coronary-syndromes: Bally M, Dendukuri N, Rich B, et al. Risk of acute myocardial infarction with NSAIDs in real world use: bayesian meta-analysis of individual patient data. BMJ. 2017;357:j1909.
Last reviewed September 2017 by
EBSCO Medical Review BoardMichael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 5/24/2018
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