Your heart is one of the most critical muscles in the body. That’s why it’s important to understand the basics of heart health and disease. Its function is to pump blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system. This pumped blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the body while carrying metabolic waste such as carbon dioxide to the lungs.
Disease of the heart
When the heart becomes diseased many complications can arise. One of the most obvious and feared is a heart attack. A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, happens when a part of the heart muscle does not get enough blood. This is usually due to a blockage, most often due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances. These substances form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries).
The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle. Knowing the symptoms and getting the right treatment could potentially save your life.
Symptoms of a heart attack
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Act immediately–take these steps
- Call for emergency medical help. If you suspect you are having a heart attack, do not hesitate.
- Take nitroglycerin if prescribed to you by a doctor. Always be sure to take it as instructed while awaiting emergency help.
- Take aspirin, if recommended. Taking aspirin during a heart attack could reduce heart damage by helping to keep your blood from clotting, but aspirin can interact with other medications.
- More advanced age
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels
- Metabolic syndrome
- Family history of heart attacks
- Lack of physical activity
- Illicit drug use
- A history of preeclampsia
- An autoimmune condition
Each minute after a heart attack, more heart tissue deteriorates or dies. Restoring blood flow quickly helps prevent heart damage.
Medications to treat a heart attack might include:
- Antiplatelet agents
- Pain relievers
- ACE inhibitors
Surgical and other procedures
In addition to medications, you might have one of these procedures to treat your heart attack:
- Coronary angioplasty and stenting. During this procedure, also known as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), doctors guide a long, thin tube (catheter) through an artery in your groin or wrist to a blocked artery in your heart. If you have had a heart attack, this procedure is often done immediately after a cardiac catheterization, a procedure used to find blockages. The catheter has a special balloon that, once in position, is briefly inflated to open a blocked coronary artery. A metal mesh stent almost always is inserted into the artery to keep it open long term, restoring blood flow to the heart. Usually, you get a stent coated with a slow-releasing medication to help keep your artery open.
- Coronary artery bypass surgery. In some cases, doctors perform emergency bypass surgery at the time of a heart attack. If possible, you might have bypass surgery after your heart has had time — about three to seven days — to recover from your heart attack. Bypass surgery involves sewing veins or arteries in place beyond a blocked or narrowed coronary artery, allowing blood flow to the heart to bypass the narrowed section.
Most hospitals offer programs that might start while you are in the hospital and continue for weeks to a couple of months after returning home. These cardiac rehabilitation programs generally focus on four primary areas — medications, lifestyle changes, emotional issues, and a gradual return to your normal activities. It is essential to participate in this program.
The older you get, the more important it is to stay aware of your heart health and the risk of heart disease. Monitoring your health and taking preventative measures are vital to living a long and healthy life.