Heart Attack

Remember that everyone is different and heart attack symptoms can vary from one person to the next. Time lost is muscle lost, so it's important to call 911 if you suspect you might be having a heart attack.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked. If the flow of blood isn't restored quickly, the section of heart muscle becomes damaged from lack of oxygen and begins to die. Heart attacks occur most often as a result of coronary artery disease, when plaque builds up on the inside walls of the coronary arteries. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot to form. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the part of the heart muscle fed by the artery.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Many heart attacks start as mild pain or discomfort, not the "fall to the floor" scenes we often see on TV.

The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. It can be mild or severe. Heart attack pain can also feel like indigestion or heartburn. Shortness of breath may often occur with or before chest discomfort.

Discomfort will sometimes be felt in one or both arms, the jaw or stomach. Other symptoms are lightheadedness and fainting or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Women are more likely than men to have the following symptoms: shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting or fatigue.

What should someone do if they suspect a heart attack?

Call 911 immediately. Early treatment can prevent or limit damage to your heart muscle and save lives.

How is a heart attack treated?

By acting fast at the first symptoms of a heart attack, you can save your life and reduce damage to your heart. Certain treatments are usually started right away if a heart attack is suspected including oxygen, aspirin to prevent further blood clotting and nitroglycerin to reduce the workload on the heart and improve blood blow through the coronary arteries.

What does it feel like to have a heart attack?

Because the warning signs vary so much from person to person, no two individuals' experiences are the same. However, by staying on top of any first warning signs, an individual can avoid long-term damage to the heart or death.

Love your heart

Heart attacks can happen fast. When seconds count, put your heart in the experienced hands of the heart care teams at UnityPoint Health. The faster you're treated, the higher your chances are for recovery.

If you have been diagnosed with a heart attack, it is extremely important to make lifestyle changes that reduce the risk factors which have contributed to your heart disease. Changing your lifestyle to reduce your risk factors is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your overall cardiovascular condition.