Heart attack

A heart attack is the death of a segment of heart muscle when the blood flow to the heart is cut off by obstruction of the artery.

Overview

A heart attack is the death of a segment of heart muscle when the blood flow to the heart is cut off by obstruction of the artery. There is pain or pressure in the chest or neck, lower jaw, shoulders, arms or upper abdomen. The most important thing is to receive medical treatment as soon as possible.

Symptoms

Main symptoms

  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Pain can radiate to the neck, lower jaw, shoulders, arms (mostly left), upper abdomen or between the shoulder blades
  • Shortness of breath
  • Overwhelming feeling that you are going to die
  • Clammy and pale skin

Around 20% of patients suffer a “silent heart attack” with no or only slight symptoms.

Complications

When cardiac muscle tissue begins to die, the heart can no longer pump efficiently. This leads to the following problems:

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • The blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries) slowly narrow from the build-up of various substances
  • When a clot forms (thrombosis), the artery is blocked suddenly
  • The segment of heart muscle behind the obstruction no longer receives any blood and the tissue dies
Main risk factors for constriction of the blood vessels
  • High blood fat levels (LDL cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Close family members have suffered heart attacks

See Arteriosclerosis for more information about constriction of the blood vessels (vasoconstriction).

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Blood test (heart enzymes)
  • Ultrasound (echocardiogram)
Possible therapies
  • Heart catheter (stent)
  • Operation (bypass)
  • Medication to dissolve the blood clot

What can I do myself?

  • For typical heart problems:
    • Call an ambulance as quickly as possible
    • Elevate the upper body and put the patient in as relaxed a position as possible
    • Ensure fresh air
    • Open tight clothing
    • Comfort the patient if possible
  • Immediately start first aid treatment (reanimation) if patient is unconscious and doesn't appear to be breathing

Prevention

When to see a doctor?

Further information

Swiss Heart Foundation (Schweizerische Herzstiftung)
www.swissheart.ch

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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