A Myocardial Infarction (MI), more commonly known as a ‘heart attack’ occurs when the heart does not get adequate blood supply and hence oxygen, due to a blockage in the heart. The name is derived from the Latin words myofor muscle and cordium for heart and the English phrase infarction meaning ‘tissue death due to inadequate blood supply’.
What happens during a MI?
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on their gender, age, and overall health. But some common symptoms are as follows.
- Chest pain: Also called Angina, this is typically a feeling of discomfort in the centre of the chest. Some people even describe it as heaviness, tightness, squeezing sensation, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, or a feeling of fullness. This feeling may last for 20-30 minutes and recur after some time or it may persist till and seek medical attention. It is generally mistaken for symptoms of indigestion or heartburn.
- Pain in upper body or discomfort in the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, and sometimes stomach
- Panting, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
- Profuse sweating even in cold weather
- A feeling of fullness, choking or heartburn that is also seen when one has indigestion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, weakness, anxiety, trembling and light-headedness
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias)
Symptoms of Heart Attack for women
The symptoms for women can vary and be less prominent compared to men. This is one of the reasons women may not seek emergency treatment as often as men do.
- Pressure or pain in the centre of the chest region
- Jaw pain or discomfort that spreads to the jaw
- Upper back or shoulder pain
- Pain that spreads to the arm
- Feeling unusually tired in the last few days
Also Read: Heart Disease leading cause of Death in Women
Some people with diabetes and some women experience a mild version of MI called Silent MI. It is detected only when the patient is getting examined for some other issue.
Why does MI happen?
Like any other part of the body, the heart also is an organ that requires its supply of oxygen-rich blood to function correctly. The coronary arteries supply this. A high-fat diet can cause some of this fat to deposit on the walls of these arteries. This deposit hardens over time and is called plaque. As the plaque thickens gradually, it starts constricting the arteries and hence blood flow to the heart.
The plaque is made of a hard outer lining and soft material inside. Sometimes the outer lining tears or ruptures. This causes a blood clot to develop in that area as a natural reaction of the circulatory system. The blood clot further constricts or blocks the artery, which has become narrow over time, causing a total stop in blood flow. This condition is called an MI or heart attack.
- Abnormally high level of blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)
- Unusually low level of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol”
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Family history of coronary artery disease at an early age
- Cigarette smoking
- A sedentary lifestyle with very little physical activity
- Age: People who are above 45 years of age are at higher risk than younger people
What to do when a person is having MI
The first one hour when a person is showing symptoms of MI is very critical. If the patient receives emergency treatment in this 1 hour, called ‘golden hour’ his/her chances of survival are high. Friends, family, or those present with the patient should immediately call for an ambulance and describe the symptoms over the phone. After that, if any of the persons present there has experience in doing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), he/she can accompany the patient. Till the ambulance arrives, loosen the patient’s clothes, and allow as much fresh, cold air around him/her as possible.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Doctors at the hospital will subject the patient to a series of tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), a BP check, blood tests for serum cardiac markers, and an echocardiogram. Treatment includes medications and after initial assessment, cardiac intervention in the form of emergency angioplasty is mostly needed.