A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, often by a blood clot. Coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly become clogged from a build-up of cells, fat and cholesterol called plaque. Blood trying to flow through these clogged arteries can form a clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle receiving blood from that artery begins to die.
Learn the warning signs of a heart attack, but also know that not all heart attack symptoms occur in every individual situation. Even if only some symptoms occur, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. Acting quickly can save your life.
Get help fast if you experience:
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or burning pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
- Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort that may be mistaken for nausea
- Chest discomfort that may be accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath or flu-like symptoms
If you think you're having a heart attack, take an uncoated aspirin. Aspirin thins the blood, making it less likely to clot.
You can reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attack.
Smoking doubles your risk of heart attack and increases your risk of sudden cardiac death two to four times; post-heart attack survival rates are greatly reduced among smokers; an estimated 390,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of smoking, the majority from heart attack and heart disease
Lower Your Blood Pressure
The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of stroke, heart attack or congestive heart failure; and if you have high blood pressure combined with other risk factors, your risk of heart attack increases several times over; there are no symptoms of high blood pressure, so check your blood pressure regularly
Lower Your Cholesterol
You have a good chance of controlling high cholesterol through a few simple changes in your diet; cut down on foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol (items such as fatty meats, organ meats, lard, butter, whole-dairy products and egg yolks)
Check for Diabetes and Keep It in Check
There are two types of diabetes; type 1 diabetes begins in childhood and can't be cured -- it is controlled through diet and medication; type 2 diabetes, far more common, develops most often among overweight adults and can usually be eliminated or completely controlled through diet and weight education
Watch Your Weight
Being overweight puts a strain on your heart, and can lead to other conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and adult onset diabetes
Use Caution When Taking Oral Contraceptives
Some women who take birth control pills may experience side effects such as higher blood pressure or abnormal blood fat levels; smoking increases your risk of heart disease
High blood pressure can be the body's automatic response to stress; stress can also lead to habits like smoking, drinking and overeating
Exercise Your Heart
Brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling and swimming are all good; even taking the stairs can provide you with a mini workout