What's It Like: To have a heart attack

Jaclyn Cosgrove: What leads up to a heart attack is nothing that happens over night. It's a buildup over time, and a lot of times it can be prevented.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: January 19, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: January 19, 2014

What leads up to a heart attack?

A person suffers a heart attack when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle is blocked, keeping the heart from getting enough oxygen. If blood flow isn't restored quickly, that section of muscle begins to die.

What leads up to a heart attack is nothing that happens over night. It's a buildup over time, and a lot of times it can be prevented.

Over time, a waxy substance called plaque can build up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. As the plaque builds up, it can restrict blood flow to the heart. When the plaque blockage becomes significant enough, a person can have the classic chest pain associated with a heart attack.

What are the symptoms?

There is a wide spectrum of symptoms for a heart attack. Chest pain is a common symptom, although it isn't present in everyone.

You might also experience shortness of breath or suddenly have difficulty breathing. You might also suffer cold sweats and indigestion.

Women are more likely than men to report the unusual symptoms associated with a heart attack. For this reason, women are less likely to realize when they're having a heart attack. These symptoms include upper back pain or shoulder pain, jaw pain, pressure in the chest, lightheadedness or unusual fatigue.

The longer a person waits to seek medical attention, the higher chance of death, especially if it's an acute and major heart attack.

Some people have “silent heart attacks,” which occur without any symptoms. This is more common in people who are diabetic. It's not until a doctor's visit when silent heart attacks are generally noticed.

How is a heart attack treated?

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, medicine and fitness, among other things. She graduated from Oklahoma State University with a news-editorial and broadcast production degree. Outside of work, she enjoys riding her bike, taking pictures of...
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