Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
Each year, approximately 715 000 Americans experience a heart attack, approximately 162 000 of which are fatal (Table 1).1 Of those who die, almost half die suddenly before they can get to a hospital. Although a heart attack is a frightening event, if you learn the signs of a heart attack and what steps to take, you can save a life, perhaps even your own. During a heart attack, a clot in one of the arteries of the heart suddenly blocks the flow of blood to the heart, and within minutes, heart muscle begins to die. This is technically called a myocardial infarction, meaning death of heart muscle. The more time that passes without treatment, the greater the damage. The part of the heart that dies during a heart attack cannot grow back or be repaired.
Fortunately, clot-dissolving drugs and other artery-opening treatments such as angioplasty (often followed by insertion of a stent, which helps to keep the artery open after the procedure) can stop a heart attack in its tracks. Given soon after symptoms begin, these treatments can prevent or limit damage to the heart. The quicker they are started, the more good they will do and the greater the chances are of a full recovery. These treatments are most effective if they are started in the first hour after the onset of heart attack symptoms. The benefit of opening the blocked artery decreases with each passing hour from symptom onset until treatment.
Learn the Signs
Many people think that a heart attack is sudden and intense, like the ‘“Hollywood” heart attack depicted in the movies where a person clutches his or her chest and falls over. …