What Is a Heart Attack?
We aren’t sure how to properly introduce the topic today, so it’s best to just jump into it. What exactly is a heart attack? The American Heart Association defines it best:
“A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely…This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can become narrowed from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque.”https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks
The human heart is one of the most important organs in our bodies; as such, if there’s an issue then it can be a literal matter of life or death. Plaque can cease blood flow, depriving the heart of what it needs to survive and causing it to send out a pain response. What happens next is vital to surviving the ordeal.
TV and movies often depict heart attacks as something that always come on suddenly and without warning, or a response to being scared silly. This isn’t exactly true (as you probably know). Heart attacks often have warning signs and they don’t always occur suddenly. Most often you’ll find that there are symptoms that develop over time and lead up to it.
This medical emergency depends on so many factors such as lifestyle, diet, stress, underlying issues, genetics, and so much more. It’s not always a simple matter. The human body is complex and not everyone will experience the same thing. Earlier we mentioned that there are symptoms and warning signs that can be observed, so let’s transition to that now.
What Are the Symptoms?
Despite the name, there are a multitude of symptoms (or warning signs) you will experience physically during a heart attack. Pay attention to these symptoms; they could save a life!
Here is a helpful infographic from the American Heart Association to illustrate what you should be looking out for:
We cannot emphasize this enough: if you experience some of these symptoms, call 911 immediately! When the heart does not receive enough blood, the tissue will become damaged and even die if enough time has passed. Minutes can save a life here.
Unfortunately, heart attacks are not very straightforward – they vary from person to person. What one individual experiences may differ completely from another. Most often, symptoms occur gradually over time but they can also come on suddenly and intensely. Some may not even know what’s going on; they just think they’re in pain or nauseous and nothing more. There is also the possibility that the actual shock of the oncoming attack will lead to cardiac arrest and forcing the person to pass out (which is more fatal). It would be difficult to discuss all of said complications so it’s better to discuss the matter with your doctor.
In the end, if you experience some of these symptoms, call for help!
What Is the Difference Between a Heart Attack and a Panic Attack?
Let’s take a step in a different direction for a moment and talk about panic attacks. Sometimes under extreme stress or due to certain health conditions, an individual can undergo one. You may be asking “why discuss that now when we’re talking about a heart issue?” right now. Panic attacks are often mistaken to be heart attacks. Why is this? Take a look at a few of the symptoms:
- Anxiety or panic
- Increased heart rate
- Sudden pain all over
- Numbness or tingling (often in the hands)
- Hyperventilation, shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling as if death is imminent
They look similar, don’t they? Thankfully, with a panic attack, the symptoms you experience typically resolve within a half hour. Please note that this does not make a panic attack less serious. Is it worth calling emergency services if you can’t tell if you’re having a panic attack or a heart attack? Absolutely! It is so much better to be safe than sorry. Don’t delay when something happens – get some help immediately!
How Do I Prevent a Heart Attack?
Now that you have the basics of it down, it’s time to learn how to prevent them. Thankfully, as with most medical issues, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of an occurrence.
Here’s what you CANNOT control:
- Race or ethnicity
Here’s what you CAN control:
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol levels
- Alcohol intake
- Avoid smoking
- Manage your stress
This may seem like a lot to deal with…and you would be right. The good thing, though, is that there is more research than ever before to prevent heart attacks and treat patients who have already had one. Supportive care, medical procedures, various medications, there are many ways to treat this after they’ve struck to get control of your life back and make sure they don’t happen again.
The key, obviously, is to prevent them from ever occurring. Even though survival is possible, there will still be damage done to your heart. Many of the variables (that can be controlled) listed above involve a change in lifestyle, but other options are available. There’s always something can be done and we hope you take comfort in that! At Advanced Internal Medicine, we treat a variety of diseases and disorders including heart attacks and their prevention. If you need a medical official to show you what your options are, prescribe medication, take tests to see how you’re doing, or simply discuss your concerns, we are here for you. Check out our website at advancedinternalmedicinega.org or visit one of our three locations in Georgia for more information!