Community Education-Heart Attacks/Myocardial Infarctions
Welcome to the October edition of Community Education. In horror movies and on TV, people get “scared to death” this time of year. Usually that is because they suffer a heart attack from the situation they are in. In this edition, we are going to discuss what a heart attack is, the symptoms associated with them, and the difference between heart attacks and cardiac arrest. Yes Grey’s Anatomy fans, they are not the same thing!
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is when blood is cut off to the heart muscle which causes the muscle to not get oxygen. When this happens, the heart does not function as it normally would and the muscle begins to die. This is a serious medical emergency in which time is of the essence!
What are the types of Heart Attacks?
There are 2 main types of heart attacks. They are classified as ST Elevated Myocardial Infarctions (STEMIs) or Non-ST Elevated Myocardial Infarctions (NSTEMI). While both are serious conditions, one is more emergent than the other. A STEMI is a heart attack that blocks 100% of an artery leading to the heart. A NSTEMI is usually a severe narrowing of the artery without a 100% blockage. STEMIs are also known as the “Widowmaker” heart attacks as they lead to Cardiac Arrest much faster if not treated in an emergent matter. This is due to absolutely no oxygen getting to the heart muscle, thus killing the muscle quicker.
What are the symptoms of a Heart Attack?
Common early symptoms are:
- mild pain or discomfort in your chest that may come and go, which is also called “stuttering” chest pain
- pain in your shoulders, neck, and jaw
- nausea or vomiting
- lightheadedness or fainting
- feeling of “impending doom”
- severe anxiety or confusion
In women, they can experience the same symptoms but additional symptoms specific to women also include:
- pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm
What are treatments for Heart Attacks?
For any of the above symptoms, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY if you suspect a heart attack. As mentioned above, time is of the essence when treating heart attacks. The quicker definitive treatment can be performed, the better the outcome in most cases. Once you arrive to the hospital, the most common treatment is a cardiac catheterization to identify the vessels involved. Following that, your doctor may talk to you about an angioplasty which removes the plaque in the vessel/s with a balloon or in heart bypass surgery if the vessel/s involved are 100% blocked and hardened to where they cannot be removed safely.
What does taking Aspirin during a Heart Attack do?
It is often heard that if you think you may be having a heart attack, you should chew baby aspirin. What this does is slow the blood clots that are forming and blocking the vessel and decrease the size of them while you are getting to the hospital. Some 911 dispatchers will even suggest this when you call 911 and are waiting for the ambulance to arrive. It is a good idea to have chewable aspirin as the absorption rate is much quicker than swallowing pills that must dissolve first.
What is the difference between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest?
As summarized above, a heart attack is the lack of oxygen getting to the heart muscle and the muscle beginning to die from that lack of oxygen. Cardiac Arrest is when your heart stops beating completely. Heart attacks will cause cardiac arrest if not treated in a timely fashion and leads to high mortality rates due to the severe damage to the heart muscle prior to the person going into cardiac arrest. Recently, you may hear in the news that they report that someone died of cardiac arrest. This statement is technically not true because cardiac arrest IS death. Usually someone dies of an illness or injury that CAUSES cardiac arrest.