One of the leading causes of death worldwide, heart attacks take away a life every 40 seconds in the United States. In Singapore, 1 out of 3 deaths is caused by heart diseases.
Studies also revealed that people of South Asian descent have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases (CVD). This is because their bodies are more inclined to store fats in the liver, muscles, and other unusual places. These are known as ectopic fats. Ectopic fats can contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems.
Below is a quick guide on everything you need to know about heart attack and what you need to do when someone in your household or workplace suffers from it.
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, medically referred to as myocardial infarction, is a serious emergency that happens when the normal blood supply that carries oxygen to the heart is restricted. When the heart’s access to oxygen is cut off, the cardiac muscle stops functioning, triggering the heart attack.
A heart attack is considered an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
What causes a Heart Attack?
Heart attacks can be brought about by many causes. Typically, underlying cardiac conditions are known to catalyse heart attacks. The most common causes of heart attacks include atherosclerosis. This condition is a type of arteriosclerosis where cholesterol, fatty deposits, and other cellular waste, collectively known as plaque, cause the arteries or blood vessels to narrow down. The accumulation of plaque in the arteries hinders blood from reaching the heart muscle.
In some cases, heart attacks are also caused by blood clots or a broken blood vessel. Blood vessel spasms can also result in heart attacks, although this circumstance is less common.
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack
- The most common signs and symptoms of heart attacks include the following:
- Chest pains or tightness in the chest area
- Unusual sweating
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- A feeling of being lightheaded or dizzy
In some cases, indigestion
However, each symptom can have more complicated indications. For example, chest pains are the most common signs of a heart attack, but not all heart attack cases are characterised by chest pains.
Typically the first symptoms of heart attack, chest pains are characterised by discomfort or tightness in the chest area. Some people who have suffered from heart attacks refer to chest pains as a feeling like that of being squeezed or stepped on by a huge and heavy object. This tightness can last for a few minutes, only to come back a few hours or even a day later. The chest tightness is a clear indication that your cardiac muscle is not getting the adequate oxygen supply that it needs.
Other than chest pains, discomfort can also be felt in other areas of the body. Some people have reported that the pain crawls down to the left arm. Moreover, this pain can also show up in areas such as the upper abdomen, shoulders, back, neck or throat, and teeth or jaw.
Another foretelling symptom of a heart attack, sweating can be associated with heart problems. As the heart exerts additional effort to pump blood on the congested arteries, the body tries to maintain its temperature levels at the optimum and this results in sweating.
If you are sweating profusely despite being inactive or not exercising, then you might be having heart problems. Furthermore, experiencing cold sweats or clammy skin is another indication of heart disease.
Fatigue can also be experienced by individuals who may be suffering from heart problems. This is because the extra effort and stress done by the heart to pump blood on congested blood vessels lead to exhaustion. Feeling tired or unusually exhausted for no particular reason may be the anticipation of a heart problem.
Feeling dizzy and lightheaded, as well as nauseous, is also a warning sign indicative of a heart problem. Indigestion can also be noted as a heart disease symptom, although this is more common in older people.
As these signs and symptoms are a general observation, these may also differ between men and women. Women are more likely to experience upper back pains before a heart attack. Other heart attack symptoms like night sweats, fatigue, lightheadedness, and dizziness are also more commonly experienced by women.
Apart from these signs and symptoms, it is also important to identify several risk factors that play a part in the development of a heart attack. These risk factors include:
Individuals who are over 65 years old tend to have a greater risk of suffering a heart attack.
Men are more prone to heart attacks compared to women.
- Family health history
If heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes runs in the family, then the chances of having a heart attack are higher.
People of African and South Asian descent are more likely to suffer from heart attacks.
- Vices, lifestyle, and other activities.
Smoking, excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, stress, lack of physical exercise all contribute to an impending heart attack.
What to do when someone is having a heart attack
Time is of the essence in every incident of a heart attack. Every second matter, so it is important to understand the following steps clearly so that you can proceed with dealing with the situation properly.
The first-aid treatment for heart attacks generally involves these steps.
Call the emergency hotline.
Heart attacks are considered a serious medical emergency. The patient must be brought immediately to the hospital to be given appropriate medical attention. If you experienced a heart attack and you do not have a companion at the moment, have a neighbor bring you to the hospital. Refrain from driving yourself, as this can put you, as well as other people, at a greater risk.
Take an aspirin, but chew it first.
While waiting for the help to arrive, have the patient take an aspirin. Aspirin has blood-thinning properties, so it can prevent the blood from clotting, reducing the damage to the heart. Make sure that the patient chews the aspirin properly before swallowing so that the aspirin takes immediate effect.
Disregard this if you are allergic to aspirin or if the doctor has advised you otherwise.
Take nitroglycerin if possible.
Alternatively, you can take nitroglycerin especially if this medication has already been prescribed to you before. Nitroglycerin aids in opening the arteries for improved blood flow.
If the patient is unconscious, perform CPR.
When the patient loses consciousness, find their pulse or check their breathing. If it appears that they are not breathing, prepare to perform CPR. This is to maintain the blood flow while waiting for medical help.
Perform 100 to 120 compressions per minute quickly with enough force.
Utilise an automated external defibrillator.
If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is easily available, use it on an unconscious patient.
What not to do when someone is having a heart attack
There are also a few things to refrain from doing whenever a heart attack incident occurs.
Do not wait for other symptoms to show.
A person may appear like they are having a heart attack even if they aren’t, but this is a circumstance that shouldn’t be entertained. Even if a person does not show other symptoms of heart attack apart from chest pains, or unconsciousness, or lightheadedness, treat the situation like it can get worse. In this manner, you can make sure that you are taking the best action possible to save the person’s life.
Do not put pressure on the person’s chest.
Applying pressure on the chest of a person having a heart attack is not gonna help unless CPR is necessary.
Treatment for Heart Attack
There is no quick treatment for heart attacks. Since this is a serious medical emergency, only doctors and medical professionals can provide treatment based on the situation and state of the heart.
To determine the proper treatment, several tests will be performed to identify the root problem. This test may include a cardiac catheterization, which enables the doctor to see where the plaque buildup may have taken place.
Treatment procedures can be surgical and nonsurgical, depending on the severity of the condition. These procedures can alleviate the pain and prevent another heart attack from happening.
Below are the common treatment procedures for a heart attack:
This is a procedure where the blocked blood vessel is opened up through a balloon to restore normal blood flow. Plaque buildup is also removed in the process.
A stent is a piece of tube that is inserted into the blood vessel to keep it open, supporting the blood flow as needed.
- Heart bypass surgery
This procedure involves the rerouting of the blood flow around the congested artery.
- Heart valve surgery
This procedure involves replacing the leaking valves to support the heart’s ability to pump.
A pacemaker is a device that is placed underneath the skin to help your heart sustain a normal heartbeat.
- Heart transplant
This procedure is only done in severe cases where there has been permanent tissue damage to the heart.
- Prescription medications may also be given by the doctor to treat the heart attack. These include:
Blood-thinning medications, like antiplatelet and anticoagulants
Medications for blood pressure
Prevention for Heart Attack
Because the heart is a major organ, learning different ways to prevent heart attacks or suffer another one can help a lot in prolonging someone’s life.
- A healthy diet
Sticking to a diet that consists mainly of nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables can largely improve the heart’s health. Furthermore, lean protein and whole-grain foods are also instrumental in preventing CVDs and heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) in reducing the risk of heart diseases. This fat can be found in cold-water fishes like salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel. Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids must be a part of the diet at least twice a week. Refrain from partaking in processed foods. Foods that are high in fat and sugar should also be avoided.
- Regular exercise
People who lack exercise or do not participate in physical activities have a higher tendency to develop heart diseases. Exercise helps in maintaining low blood pressure, as well as keep cholesterol levels in check. This is why regular exercise is not only for losing weight. It is essential to improve the heart’s overall well-being and state. By regular exercise, it is not required to engage in an intense workout. Something as simple as walking for 30 minutes at least 5 times a week can help improve cardiovascular health. If you have already suffered a heart attack before but want to participate in an exercise program, consult with your doctor about your limitations.
- A healthy diet
- Meditation and stress management
Stress and lower blood pressure than normal can lead to cardiovascular diseases, making someone more prone to heart attacks.
Meditation largely helps in reducing stress. There are several meditation forms and techniques to follow so that a person can become more in control of their thoughts. These include:
- Guided meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Mindfulness meditation
- Tai chi
If you are not particularly inclined in these techniques, you can always just find a comfortable spot, close your eyes, and meditate on your own terms. The point of meditation is to create a peaceful time for your mind, silence your thoughts, and relax.
- Outlook in life and mindset
Evaluating your current lifestyle and making simple adjustments can go a long way when preventing heart diseases from happening.
Maintaining a positive attitude and outlook in life can also be helpful in averting a heart disease situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when you have a heart attack and don't go to the hospital?
Can a heart attack be stopped?
A heart attack cannot be stopped. The symptoms like chest pains may continue to persist for a few minutes or an hour, go away, but then come back again after a day. The only way to stop heart attacks is to get immediate medical treatment at a hospital.
Does heart attack come and go?
Heart attack symptoms may come and go. Chest pains and discomfort can be felt for a few minutes to a few hours. These pains can go away only to return at a later time.
As for heart attack emergencies, suffering a heart attack once increases the risk for another heart attack. In general, a person who has had a heart attack before may suffer another heart attack 3 to 5 years after the initial heart attack. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent another attack from occurring.
How many days does a heart attack last?
Symptoms of heart attacks may show up as early as a few months before the actual heart attack happens. There are also instances of sudden heart attacks where the person does not experience any kind of symptom prior to the heart attack incident.
Where does a heart attack hurt?
A heart attack symptom often starts out as chest pains, a feeling of being squeezed, or a tightness across the chest area. But, the pain can also show up in other parts of the body like the upper abdomen, shoulders, back, neck, or throat, as well as teeth or jaw.