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Heart attack symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

The common perception is that only people above the age of 50 are susceptible to heart diseases. However, recently, younger people have also suffered from heart conditions.

This article highlights the symptoms, causes, treatments and preventive measures related to a heart attack so that you can be aware of them and take timely action.




What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is a medical condition where the heart does not function normally, and the person is at risk of death. Commonly, it can occur in men above the age of 45 and women above the age of 55. Heart attacks can happen without a warning. However, many patients exhibit warning signs and symptoms hours, days, or even weeks in advance. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, and not all heart attacks are the same in terms of symptoms or severity.

Types of heart attacks

A heart attack can be of the following three types.

  1. Coronary spasm, or unstable angina

  2. Non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI)

  3. ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI)

The pattern that is displayed on an electrocardiogram is referred to as the "ST segment." Elevated segments will only be visible in a STEMI. Heart attacks classified as significant can occur in STEMI and NSTEMI patients.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Following are the symptoms of a heart attack.

  • Rapid or irregular pulse

  • Discomfort that spreads to your arm, back, jaw, or throat

  • Pain, pressure, heaviness, tightness, or discomfort in the arm, chest, or area behind the breastbone

  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or lightheadedness

  • Feelings of suffocation, bloating, or fullness (symptoms are similar to a heartburn)

  • Fatigue, anxiety, or shortness of breath

  • Breathing issue

  • Unusual tiredness

  • Unsteadiness or faintness

  • Nausea or diarrhoea

  • Neck, shoulder, or upper back discomfort

  • Discomfort in the stomach (sensation similar to Indigestion)

Do heart attack symptoms vary between men and women?

Medical conditions like Obesity, Diabetes, or High blood pressure are commonly found in both genders. However, there are a few differences between heart attack symptoms for men and women.

  • Women can experience heart attack symptoms that are more subtle and difficult to recognise, especially if the doctor is just searching for the "typical" heart attack signs. 

  • Women tend to experience rare symptoms like indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain, even when there is no obvious chest discomfort.

What are the causes of heart attack?

Following are some common reasons for having a heart attack.

  1. Eating disorders: A prolonged eating disorder might harm your heart, which could lead to a heart attack.

  2. Artery spasm: Your arteries include a muscle lining that enables them to expand or contract as necessary. Sometimes, those muscles can contract or spasm. This can stop the blood supply to the heart muscle.

  3. Obstruction: A blood clot or air bubble (embolism) lodged in a coronary artery might cause an obstruction originating from another part of the body.

  4. Injury: Trauma or injury to the coronary arteries can result in tears or ruptures that can cause an attack.

  5. Electrolyte imbalances: A heart attack can be brought on by excessive or inadequate levels of essential minerals like potassium in the blood.

  6. Medical conditions: Some medical disorders include and can lead to an illness that results in an abnormal tightening of the blood vessels. This can cause a heart attack.

What are the risk factors for heart attack?

Numerous risk factors for coronary heart disease and heart attacks, in particular, have been found by extensive investigation. Your risk of getting coronary heart disease (the medical term for the plaque accumulating in the heart's arteries that may result in heart attack) increases with the number of risk factors and the severity of each risk factor. Here are a few examples of risk factors.

  • Old age

  • Smoking 

  • High cholesterol levels

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Unmanaged stress

  • Obesity

  • Alcohol

What does the diagnostics and treatment process of a coronary heart disease include?

The diagnostics and treatment process of a coronary heart disease can include the following. Note that the process can be different for different people.

  • ECG Test: An ECG, or electrocardiogram, is a quick test that captures the heart's electrical activity. It can identify the extent and location of the damage to your cardiac muscle. Additionally, your heart rhythm and rate can be monitored.

  • Stress test: The medical professional may do a stress test or a radionuclide scan to determine whether other parts of the heart are still in danger of another heart attack.

  • Cardiac catheterization: During this procedure, a catheter (a small, hollow tube) is threaded up to your heart through a blood artery in your groyne or wrist. Your heart's arteries are marked with dye. Once blockages have been found, your doctor can perform an angioplasty or place a stent to unblock the artery and improve blood flow.

  • Blood Test: A heart specialist can gauge the size and start time of the heart attack by checking the levels of cardiac enzymes. Troponin levels can also be determined via blood tests. Troponins are proteins found inside heart cells and are released when the cells are harmed due to your heart's lack of blood flow. Blood tests can be performed at intervals of between 4 and 8 hours.

To avoid lasting heart damage or death, the treatment is started immediately. The necessary medical procedure can begin in the ambulance itself or the emergency room (if someone else brings the patient directly to the hospital).

Reasons for heart attack

Here are some common reasons that can lead to a heart attack. These differ on a case to case basis and may not be the sole reason for having an attack.

What are the preventive measures you can follow to avoid a heart attack?

Following are the preventive measures you can follow to avoid a heart attack.

Avoid smoking

Smoking tobacco is one of the most significant reasons for a heart attack. You can avoid smoking tobacco by opting for a less harmful alternative or consider quitting. 

Even if you do not smoke actively but find yourself in the vicinity of smokers, you are at risk because of second-hand smoke. Studies have shown that second-hand smoke can cause damage to people inhaling it.

Engage in a physical activity

Regular physical activity helps build your heart's overall health. It can also increase energy levels and help control weight. It is not always necessary to "hit the gym" if you want to stay fit. In the beginning, you can engage in your favourite sport or walk a short distance to build a habit. Regular exercise also helps establish a normal sleeping pattern. With moderate to high-level regular exercise, you sleep better and wake up feeling fresh!

Develop a healthy relationship with food

Your body requires nutrition to function, and it is very important that it receives adequate nutrition at regular intervals. A nutritious diet can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and protect the heart. Limiting the intake of certain food items like salt, processed carbohydrates, sugar, etc., will also promote better health. You can see rewarding results when you have a good relationship with food.

Monitor your health 

To have a healthy heart, it is important that you keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and take necessary measures to avoid possible issues. This can be achieved with the help of regular health check-ups. Tests that monitor your health can give a fair idea about the overall health of your heart. Here are a few tests that your doctor may recommend.

  • Diabetes: Your doctor could advise early screening if you have diabetes risk factors, such as being overweight or having a family history of the disease. If not, screening should start at age 45 and be repeated every three years because people with diabetes are at risk of heart disease.

  • Cholesterol: Adults should have their cholesterol checked at least every four to six years. Typically, cholesterol testing must begin at age 20. If you have other risk factors, such as a family history of early-onset heart disease, earlier testing may be advised.

  • Blood pressure: Routine blood pressure checks must begin early in life and at a regular interval of at least two years. You should undergo screening once a year if you are between the ages of 18 and 39 years and have risk factors for high blood pressure. A yearly blood pressure check is also offered to everyone over the age of 40.

Frequently asked questions

Following are common questions about heart attack and its symptoms.

Can a person suffer from multiple heart attacks in a lifetime?


A person can suffer from multiple heart attacks in a lifetime. But with each episode, the risk of it becoming life-threatening increases. So it is essential to take active measures to avoid an attack altogether. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating a balanced diet, and staying fit can lower the risk of having a heart attack.

What is the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack?


While cardiac arrest is like an electrical issue in the heart's rhythm, heart attacks occur from circulatory problems. Cardiac arrest is uncommon and may occur in high-risk cases. However, a heart attack may become a cause of cardiac arrest.

What causes Coronary heart disease?


The primary cause of Coronary heart disease is blocked arteries. Fatty deposits on the artery wall can cause an obstruction. This may lead to problems with normal blood flow to the heart.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.



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