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Heart Attack

What is a heart attack?
Heart Attack A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a section of heart muscle is blocked and that section of the heart muscle becomes damaged from lack of oxygen and begins to die. Heart attacks are most often a result of coronary artery disease, in which a fatty material called plaque builds up on the inside walls of the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart). This build-up, which occurs over many years, is called atherosclerosis. Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood—or completely block the flow—to the part of the heart muscle fed by the artery.

What are the risk factors for a heart attack?
Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, age and family history all put individuals at risk for a heart attack. In addition, postmenopausal women, women on hormone-replacement therapy, or women with a history of metabolic syndrome or polycystic ovarian disease may be at a higher risk for heart attack.

What are the warning signs?
Sometimes heart attacks occur without any warning (a silent heart attack). However, most people with heart attacks experience some kind of symptom. The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. This can feel like pressure, squeezing or discomfort in the chest, but some patients experience pain in the upper body, arms, back, neck, jaw or even in the stomach. Occasionally, patients may have difficulty breathing, have nausea or vomiting, or break out in a cold sweat. Women are more likely than men to have atypical symptoms. In fact, atypical symptoms are more often seen in very young or very old women with heart attacks. The important thing to realize is that each person’s symptoms are unique, so if you feel like something is not right, listen to your body and get help.

How is a heart attack diagnosed and treated?
Electrocardiograms, blood tests and coronary angiographies are all used to diagnose a heart attack and the location and severity of the heart attack. Patients with heart attacks who are treated early often have the best outcome. Immediate treatments when a heart attack is suspected include oxygen, and medications such as aspirin (to prevent blood clotting) and nitroglycerin (to relieve chest pain). Once a heart attack is confirmed, efforts are made to restore blood flow to the heart. In the case of a heart attack that is caused by an acute blood clot formation in the heart, doctors may use medications to dissolve the blood clots or perform an angioplasty, an emergency procedure that opens up the blockage in the artery. Medications are often used to prevent additional clotting, reduce the strain on the heart and prevent further attacks. Stress tests, echocardiograms, cardiac MRI and cardiac surgery are additional options for diagnosing and treating heart attacks.

To make an appointment with a Women’s Heart NY physician, please call
(877) WOMEN-00/(877) 966-3600.

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