How to spot and treat a heart attack

How to spot and treat a heart attack

A heart attack is the death of a heart muscle segment, caused by a blood flow loss. The blood is usually cut off when a blood clot blocks an artery that feeds the heart muscle.

If some of the heart muscle dies, a person experiences chest pain and electrical instability of the heart muscle tissue.

The Nccmed Knowledge Center should provide details about how and why heart attacks take place, how they are handled and how they can be avoided.

Fast facts on heart attacks:

  • During a heart attack, the heart muscle loses blood supply and is damaged.
  • Chest discomfort and pain are common symptoms.
  • The risk of a heart attack increases when a man is over 45 and a woman is over 55.
  • Smoking and obesity are big factors, particularly in the at-risk age range.


A man having heart attack
Crushing chest pain is a common symptom of heart attacks.

There are clear symptoms of a heart attack which require immediate health care.

A sensation of pressure, tightness, discomfort, squeezing, or discomfort that extends in the chest or arms to the neck, jaw, or back can be a sign that a person is having a heart attack.

Many potential signs and symptoms of a heart attack arising are as follows:

  • coughing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • crushing chest pain
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath called dyspnea
  • face seeming gray in color
  • a feeling of terror that life is ending
  • feeling awful, generally
  • restlessness
  • feeling clammy and sweaty
  • shortness of breath

Changing position does not allay a heart attack’s discomfort. The pain that a person experiences is generally constant although sometimes it can come and go.

Warning signs

Because heart attacks can be fatal, it is important to consider the warning signs when an attack occurs.

While the above symptoms are all related to heart attacks, the American Heart Association (AHA) has identified four warning signs as vital signs of an attack. Including:

  • discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the chest that lasts several minutes or resolves then returns
  • pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, back, stomach, or jaw
  • sudden shortness of breath

Other signs can include a cold sweat, a sick or nauseous feeling, or being lightheaded.

When a person has these symptoms, the emergency services should be called immediately.


There are two types of complications which can occur after a heart attack. The first takes place pretty straight away, and the second happens later.

Immediate complications

  • Arrhythmias: the heart beats irregularly, either too fast or too slowly.
  • Cardiogenic shock: a person’s blood pressure drops suddenly and the heart cannot supply enough blood for the body to work adequately.
  • Hypoxemia: levels of oxygen in the blood become too low.
  • Pulmonary edema: fluid accumulates in and around the lungs.
  • DVT or deep vein thrombosis: the deep veins of the legs and pelvis develop blood clots that either block or interrupt the flow of blood in the vein.
  • Myocardial rupture: the heart attack damages the wall of the heart, meaning an increased risk of a heart wall rupture.
  • Ventricular aneurysm: a heart chamber, known as a ventricle, forms a bulge.

Complications that can occur later

  • Aneurysm: scar tissue builds up on the damaged heart wall, leading to blood clots, low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Angina: not enough oxygen reaches the heart, causing chest pain.
  • Congestive heart failure: the heart can only beat very weakly, leaving a person feeling exhausted and breathless.
  • Edema: fluid accumulates in the ankles and legs, causing them to swell.
  • Loss of erectile function: erectile dysfunction is generally caused by a vascular problem. However, it can also be the result of depression.
  • Loss of libido: a loss of sexual drive can happen, especially in the case of men.
  • Pericarditis: the lining of the heart becomes inflamed, causing serious chest pain.

It is important that a doctor monitors a person for several months after they have had a heart attack to check for any of these complications that may occur.


A doctor using Defibrillator panels
Defibrillator panels can be effective during a heart attack.

The quicker someone is treated when a heart attack happens the greater the likelihood of success. Most heart attacks can be treated successfully these days.

It is, however, important to note that a person’s survival is largely dependent on how quickly they enter the hospital.

When a person has a history of heart problems they should discuss medical options with a doctor.

Treatments during a heart attack

Sometimes, a person who is having a heart attack will stop breathing. In this case, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, should be started immediately. This process involves:

  • manual chest compressions
  • a defibrillator

Treatments following a heart attack

Most patients with a heart attack may require many kinds of medicine or treatment. These measures are aimed at avoiding future heart attacks. Can also include:

  • aspirin and other antiplatelets
  • beta blockers
  • ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors
  • statins
  • angioplasty
  • CABG or coronary artery bypass graft


A heart attack is a medical emergency where blood flow to the heart is blocked, often as a result of a blood clot.

Many terms used for a heart attack include myocardial infarction, heart attack, and cardiac thrombosis. An infarction occurs when an area occurs cut off from the blood supply and the tissue in that area dies.

In a cardiac arrest a heart attack is often confused . Although all are medical emergencies, the blockage of an artery leading to the heart is a heart attack, and a cardiac arrest involves the heart stopping blood flowing through the body. Cardiac arrest may result from a heart attack.


Following a balanced lifestyle is the fastest way of avoiding heart attack. Tools for a balanced life include:

  • not smoking
  • eating a balanced, healthful diet
  • getting plenty of exercise
  • getting plenty of good quality sleep
  • keeping diabetes under control
  • keeping alcohol intake down
  • maintaining blood cholesterol at optimum levels
  • keeping blood pressure at a safe level
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • avoiding stress where possible
  • learning how to manage stress

It may be helpful for people to learn more about the warning signs of a heart attack, as well.


Whether they think they may have a heart attack, any doctor, nurse, or health care provider should rush them straight to the hospital. Many checks can be performed while there including:

  • ECG or electrocardiograph
  • cardiac enzyme tests
  • chest X-ray


Woman and man running or jogging on bridge

The recovery from a heart attack can be a progressive process. It depends on the severity of the heart attack and other factors, including the age of the person.

A person’s recovery may involve:

  • Resuming physical activity: it is vital that a recovering heart attack patient stays active. However, a specialist should design any exercise program for them.
  • Returning to work: the appropriate time for someone to go back to work depends on various factors, including the severity of the heart attack and the type of job they do. It is vital not to rush back to work.
  • A period of depression: many people who have had a heart attack experience depression not long afterward. Those who feel depressed or anxious should tell their doctors.
  • Driving again: experts advise that a person refrains from driving for at least 4 weeks after a heart attack.
  • Erectile dysfunction: approximately one-third of men have problems getting or sustaining an erection after a heart attack.

It is important that men with erectile dysfunction talk with their physicians, because in most cases, medication will restore function.

Experts say that sexual activity does not raise a person’s risk of having another heart attack.


The following factors are associated with increased risk of a heart attack:

  • Age: Heart attacks are more likely when a man is over 45, and when a woman is over 55.
  • Angina: This causes chest pain due to lack of oxygen or blood supply to the heart.
  • High cholesterol levels: These can increase the chance of blood clots in the arteries.
  • Diabetes: This can increase heart attack risk.
  • Diet: For example, consuming large quantities of saturated fats can increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
  • Genetics: A person can inherit a higher risk of heart attack.
  • Heart surgery: This can lead to a heart attack later on.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure can put unnecessary strain on the heart.
  • Obesity: Being significantly overweight can put pressure on the heart.
  • Previous heart attack.
  • Smoking: Smokers are at much higher risk than non-smokers.
  • HIV: People who are HIV-positive have a 50 percent higher risk.
  • Work stress: Those who are shift workers or have stressful jobs can face a higher heart attack risk.

Physical inactivity is a heart attack risk factor and the more involved people are, the lower their risk of a heart attack.

A heart attack is often caused by a mixture of causes, rather than a single one, when it happens.