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?
Once you're at the hospital, a doctor might perform a coronary angioplasty procedure.
The most common cause of a heart attack is when the plaque in a person's arteries ruptures, and a blood clot forms on its surface.
A large blood clot can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. Over time, ruptured plaque also hardens and narrows the coronary arteries.
Angioplasty, a procedure used to open narrow or blocked arteries, can restore blood flow to the heart.
During a heart attack, time is muscle. The longer you go without blood flow, the higher risk you have that your heart muscle can become dead and scarred. It's important to take chest pain and other symptoms seriously.
What's the recovery time?
You will likely stay in the hospital a minimum of two days. The time you spend in the hospital will vary, though, depending on your health and how intense your heart attack was. It will also depend on how much the heart attack damaged your heart.
After you're released, you will want to rest for at least a week. It's important to ask any questions you have for your doctor and follow his or her orders. This will better ensure a successful recovery.
You might be prescribed cardiac rehabilitation, which could include aerobic exercises. This will vary from doctor to doctor and also among hospitals.
Sources: Dr. Reji Pappy, an interventional cardiology at St. Anthony Hospital; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; and the American Heart Association.