Heart Attacks (Myocardial Infarction) and Related Causes

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Modified on 2009/10/14 21:51 by admin
A heart attack occurs every 20 seconds, with a heart attack death occurring every minute. In other words, according to the American Heart Association, more than 1.2 million people suffer from a heart attack in the United States each year, with about 38% of those cases resulting in death.

Approximately 300,000 people die from a heart attack each year prior to seeking medical attention. Nearly 90-95% of people who are able to reach a hospital alive, will survive. Overall, about one third of the people who suffer a heart attack will die.

The heart attack or "myocardial infarction" can occur when the blood supply to the heart is restricted. Many things, including a blood clot and extremely low blood pressure, can cause such a reduction in blood flow. In most cases this occurs because fatty deposits called plaque have built up inside the coronary arteries which work to supply blood into the heart. If the plaque breaks open, the heart tries to fix it by creating a clot around it. Ultimately, the clot can block the artery, preventing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Activities such as illegal drug use (i.e. a stimulant like cocaine), intense exercise and strong emotions (i.e. stress) can trigger the onset of a heart attack. There is often no clear cause for a heart attack.

When heart tissue is deprived of oxygen for 30 minutes or longer (called ischemia) it starts to die. Ischemia causes electrical instability in the heart chambers, which prevents the heart from properly pumping blood throughout the body (known as ventricular fibrillation). Death and permanent brain damage can occur if the brain is deprived of blood flow for five minutes or more.

Symptoms of Heart Attack

Early heart attack symptoms may include pain in the chest, left arm, jaw, neck, or back. Many people suffer from other symptoms and with minor heart attacks, some have very mild or no symptoms at all.

Symptoms of heart attack vary considerably, even in those patients that have suffered a previous heart attack. The onset of heart attack symptoms is usually a gradual progression over several minutes, and very rarely instantaneous. Some describe a heart attack as a squeezing, pressure or heaviness in the chest. It is important not to ignore chest pain and discomfort; seek immediate medical attention.

Heart Attack Risk Factors

The primary risk factor for heart attack is coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as atherosclerosis (deposits of cholesterol and fatty material). While medical progress has improved immensely over the years, heart disease continues to be a serious health problem. According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Physical Stress (intense exercise)
  • Older age (60+)
  • Family history (genetic predisposition)
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
  • High Cholesterol (high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol
  • Elevated levels of certain types of proteins and amino acids
  • Obesity (body mass index of more than 30 kg)
  • Males are more at risk of suffering a heart attack then women
  • Tobacco smoking increases the likelihood of heart attack
  • Diabetes (both with and without insulin use)

Many of the risk factors listed above can be prevented by maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Exercise for instance, can help lower your heart attack risk. Risk factors that can not be prevented include age, sex and family history (genetic predisposition).

Heart Attack Survival  

Heart attack survival depends on quick action. Death can often be avoided if cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is started within the first four minutes of cardiac arrest.

Emergency personnel are trained to assess the situation quickly. In non-emergencies, they may start by performing an electrocardiogram (ECG) or chest x-ray. Other diagnostic tests and treatments may include medications and, in emergencies, CPR or the administration electrical currents to the chest with medical devices known as defibrillators.

If you believe you have suffered a heart attack it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Do not ignore chest pain and discomfort. Time is vitally important – you should go to the hospital immediately - it is far better to be safe than sorry.

 
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