Heart Disease Symptoms Attack

A heart attack happens when anything causes a portion of the heart muscle to become injured or damaged enough to stop the heart from beating. Also called “cardiac arrest,” this is a leading cause of death in the United States.

A heart attack or cardiac arrest is not usually an isolated condition, but rather a complication of underlying heart disease. Some heart attacks may be linked to a weak heart muscle, life-threatening arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats.

Heart Attack Signs

Most often, heart attack signs occur as a result of coronary artery disease. When a coronary artery becomes blocked by plaque build-up or by blood clots, the portion of the heart muscle nourished by the blocked artery becomes oxygen-starved, and the tissues of that portion can die.

As these tissues weaken, heart attack pain may take place in the chest and radiate to the shoulder or jaw. Other heart attack signs may occur, but the heart may continue to beat even while damaged. Heart attacks don’t always display the sudden symptoms that we see in movies, and a damaged heart muscle may not lead to full cardiac arrest for hours. During this time a person may feel a range of symptoms, including:

  • Chest discomfort that may last more than a few minutes or go away and come back
  • Discomfort in the neck, back, arms, jaw or stomach
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to receive treatment as soon as possible, since early treatment can prevent full cardiac arrest and may limit permanent tissue damage. Call 911 and take an ambulance to the hospital. Driving in a private car may delay treatment.

Heart Attack Diagnosis and Treatment

If the symptoms are not obvious right away, an EKG (also abbreviated as ECG), or echocardiogram, can diagnose a heart attack. Once a heart attack is confirmed, aspirin, thrombolytics or other medications may be administered to restore blood flow to the heart. These drugs usually work by thinning the blood or breaking apart clots that may be blocking its passage. Morphine may be used to control heart attack pain, and beta-blockers may be given to help relax the heart muscle and lower blood pressure.

In some cases, a heart attack patient may require surgery. One common form of heart surgery involves stenting, or mechanically propping open a blocked artery. Another type is coronary bypass surgery, in which veins and arteries are sewn in a way that reroutes the blood flow around the site of the blockage.

Heart Attack Prevention

The best way to prevent a heart attack is to control your risk of underlying heart disease. Heart disease can take many forms, and each form carries its own risk factors. But in almost all cases, a healthy diet, active lifestyle and effective stress management can help to protect your heart and keep it strong.


American Heart Association. (2010). Heart attack symptoms and warning signs. Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4595

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Heart attack basics. Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2008). What is a heart attack? Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_WhatIs.html