A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or blocked. This blockage is usually caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or other substances in the heart (coronary) arteries. Deposits containing fat and cholesterol are called plaque. The process of plaque formation is called atherosclerosis.
Sometimes the plaque ruptures and forms a clot that blocks blood flow. Lack of blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.
A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction.
A heart attack must be treated promptly to prevent death. If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 or 911.
Heart attack symptoms vary. Some people have mild symptoms. Others have more severe symptoms. Some people have no symptoms.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
Chest pain can feel like pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing, or pain
Pain and discomfort in the shoulders, arms, back, neck, jaw, teeth, and sometimes in the upper abdomen
Heartburn or upset stomach
Dizziness or sudden dizziness
Shortness of breath
Women may have unusual symptoms, such as short or sharp pains in the neck, arms, or back. Sometimes the first symptom of a heart attack is sudden cardiac arrest.
Some heart attacks happen suddenly. But many people have warning signs and symptoms hours, days, or weeks in advance. Chest pain or pressure (angina) that doesn’t go away even with rest can be an early warning sign. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.
When to see a doctor?
If you think you’re having a heart attack, get help right away. Follow these steps:
Call for emergency medical help. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number. If you cannot get immediate medical attention, have someone take you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only if there is no other option.
Take nitroglycerin if directed by your healthcare provider. Take as directed while waiting for emergency care.
Take aspirin if recommended. Taking aspirin during a heart attack can reduce heart damage by preventing blood clots.
Aspirin may interact with other medications. Do not take aspirin unless your caregiver or emergency medical personnel do so. Don’t delay in calling 911 for an aspirin. Call emergency first.