What is a heart attack?
A heart attack happens when blood supply to heart muscles is blocked. This is usually caused by a clot in the heart artery. The affected heart muscle starts to die because it lacks blood supply. The medical term for heart attack is “myocardial infarction” or just “M.I”.
How do you recognize heart attack symptoms?
Heart attack symptoms can be different in every individual especially among women and people living with diabetes. The most common symptom is a sudden chest pain, which may present as pressure, squeezing pain or discomfort in the chest. It may progress into your left arm, neck, back or stomach. It could be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, cold sweating and anxiety. The pain could lasts for a few minutes, cease and then come back. Other symptoms could be shortness of breath.
A heart attack sometimes gives warning signs days before like extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, anxiety, cold sweats, nausea or vomiting and sometimes indigestion.
People with diabetes may not feel any symptoms at all. Women might have atypical presentation of symptoms in the neck area or upper abdomen.
Heart attack symptoms may begin slowly, causing mild pain and discomfort. They can occur at rest or while you’re active.
What to do if you are experiencing a heart attack
This is an emergency that can cause death. It requires quick action. Do not ignore even minor heart attack symptoms.About half the people who die from heart attacks do so within the first hour after heart attack symptoms begin. Immediate treatment lessens heart damage and saves lives.
If you are alone:
- Call for help. Call your medical emergency number
- Do not drive yourself to the hospital
- Stay calm! Stress or strenuous activity is dangerous for the heart in this moment
- If you are not allergic to aspirin, chew a tablet of aspirin and swallow it. Aspirin helps dissolves blood clots.
- Health myths like coughing hard and regularly during a heart attack have no scientific proof that they work. It might even add strain and stress to the heart.
If you experience someone having a heart attack:
- first call your medical emergency number or a doctor
- while waiting for help to come, calm the person down, make them lie down or sit down
- give them a tablet of aspirin to chew and swallow if they are not allergic to aspirin
- if the person stops breathing or goes unconscious, start CPR
- if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available and the person is unconscious, begin CPR while the device is retrieved and set up. Attach the device and follow instructions that will be provided by the AED after it has evaluated the person’s condition.
- if you are in an area without emergency health services, carry the individual to a hospital
Many people delay treatment because they doubt if they really are having a heart attack. They don’t want to bother or worry their friends and family. But it is always better to be safe than sorry.
What to do after you recover from a heart attack
- follow your doctor’s advice for recovery, both in the days immediately following the heart attack and over the long term
- you will be prescribed medication to reduce blood clotting and chances of having another heart attack or heart failure. You will probably take this medication for the rest of your life
- know the risks of a second heart attack and reduce them. About one-third of people who survived a heart attack suffer another attack. The following advice will reduce your risk of a second heart attack:
- Stop smoking. Smokers have a double chance of suffering a heart attack.
- Reduce your cholesterol level. Check at least once a year your cholesterol level with your doctor. Cholesterol can be especially dangerous when it occurs in conjunction with high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL which is the good cholesterol and LDL, the bad cholesterol. Strive to keep your bad cholesterol level under 70. Your doctor will prescribe medicines and dietary changes for this.
- Check if you have diabetes. If you already have diabetes, control it more and keep your HbA1c under 7%
- Control your blood pressure. Click here to learn how to control your blood pressure.
- Cut down on weight: being overweight can raise your cholesterol, blood pressure and cause diabetes. Use your body-mass-index (BMI) to control your weight. Your body-mass-index tells you if your are overweight or not, depending on your height. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25. Click here to calculate your Body-Mass-Index.
- Cut down on alcohol consumption and avoid binge drinking
- Reduce salt consumption. Excess salt can lead to high blood pressure and worsen heart failure
- Exercise. Consult with your doctor on how you can start an exercise program. With your doctor’s advice you can work out a program of cardiovascular exercise with achievable goals over time (e.g., walking, swimming, bicycle riding).