A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is interrupted. Oxygen can't get to the heart muscle, causing tissue damage or tissue death.

Heart Attack

Heart Attack
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A heart attack may be caused by:

  • Thickening of the walls of the arteries feeding the heart muscle (coronary arteries)
  • Accumulation of fatty plaques in the coronary arteries
  • Narrowing of the coronary arteries
  • Spasm of the coronary arteries
  • Development of a blood clot in the coronary arteries

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing heart attack. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:



Symptoms include:

  • Squeezing, heavy chest pain, especially with:
    • Exercise or exertion
    • Emotional stress
    • Cold weather
    • A large meal
  • Pain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating, clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Anxiety]]> , especially feeling a sense of doom or panic without apparent reason

Unusual symptoms of heart attack (may occur more frequently in women):

  • Stomach pain
  • Back and shoulder pain
  • Confusion
  • Fainting



If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 right away.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests—to look for certain enzymes found in the blood within hours or days after a heart attack
  • Urine tests—to look for certain substances found in the urine within hours or days after a heart attack
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)]]> —records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle, changes can show if there is blockage or damage
  • ]]>Echocardiogram]]> —uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the size, shape, function, and motion of the heart
  • ]]>Stress test]]> —records the heart's electrical activity under increased physical stress, usually done days or weeks after the heart attack
  • Nuclear scanning—uses radioactive material to show areas of the heart muscle where there is diminished blood flow
  • Electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT) —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make detailed pictures of the heart, coronary arteries, and surrounding structures; may be helpful if you are at immediate risk of ]]>coronary artery disease]]>
  • ]]>Coronary angiography]]> —uses dye and x-rays to look for narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries



Treatment includes:

  • Oxygen
  • Pain-relief medications (such as morphine)
  • Nitrate medications
  • Aspirin]]> and other antiplatelet agents
  • ]]>Beta-blocking]]> and/or ACE inhibitor medications (frequently given)
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Clot-dissolving agents (thrombolytics)—Within the first six hours after a heart attack, you may be given medications to break up blood clots in the coronary arteries.
    • Other medicines that may be given include those that block the function of platelets (called platelet IIb/IIIa receptor blockers).
  • ]]>Cholesterol-lowering medications]]> (eg, statin drugs)


If you have severe blockages, you may need surgery. Surgery includes:

According to a review, patients who received CABG had more ]]>angina]]> relief and less need for another, similar procedure. This is compared to those who received percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). PCI involves techniques using balloon angioplasty or ]]>coronary stenting]]> .

Physical or Rehabilitative Therapy

During recovery , you may need physical or rehabilitative therapy to help you regain your strength.

Treatment for Depression

You may feel ]]>depressed]]> after having a heart attack. ]]>Therapy]]> and medication can help relieve ]]>depression]]> .

If you have a heart attack, follow your doctor's instructions .



Preventing or treating coronary artery disease may help prevent a heart attack.

  • Maintain a healthy weight]]> .
  • Begin a safe ]]>exercise program]]> . Follow your doctor's advice.
  • If you smoke, ]]>quit]]> .
  • Eat a ]]>healthful diet]]> . Your diet should be low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Treat ]]>high blood pressure]]> , ]]>diabetes and high cholestrol]]> .
  • ]]>Manage stress]]> .
  • Ask your doctor about taking a small, daily dose of aspirin.
    • Although most people are able to tolerate such a low dose of aspirin, even this small amount can rarely lead to serious bleeding, particuarly from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract .
    • Aspirin may not work as well when combined with other pain medications.