Heart Attack: It’s Not the Same for Everyone

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Published on June 02, 2021

Heart Attack: It’s Not the Same for Everyone

Photo of a woman seated on a couch and holding her chestA heart attack happens when one or more parts of the heart muscle don’t get enough oxygen. That occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked.

“If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off, muscle cells of the heart begin to suffer damage and start to die,” according to Guy Mayeda MD, interventional cardiologist at PIH Health. “Permanent damage begins within 30 minutes of blockage and the heart muscle may then become permanently damaged.”

What causes a heart attack?

A blockage in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle can lead to a heart attack. A blockage is caused by a buildup of plaque. This is called atherosclerosis. Plaque is made up of deposits, cholesterol, and other substances. When a plaque breaks (ruptures), a blood clot quickly forms. The blood clot is the actual cause of the heart attack.

Who is at risk for a heart attack?

“A heart attack can happen to anyone but certain factors can raise your risk for one,” says Dr. Mayeda. “Some of these factors you can’t change; others you may be able to manage through lifestyle changes and medical care.”

You may be at higher risk for a heart attack if you:

  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • Have a family history of heart disease. This is especially true if the heart disease started before age 55
  • Are older in age. Generally, men are at risk at a younger age than women. After menopause, women are equally at risk
  • Have diabetes
  • Smoke, including chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes (vaping)
  • Are under a lot of stress
  • Drink too much alcohol or use illegal drugs
  • Are not active
  • Are overweight
  • Eat a diet high in saturated fat and low in fiber

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Each person may have slightly different symptoms of a heart attack. But these are the most common symptoms:

  • Severe pressure, fullness, squeezing, pain, or discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms, or jaw
  • Chest pain that gets worse
  • Chest pain that doesn't get better with rest or by taking nitroglycerin
  • Chest pain that happens along with any of these symptoms:
    • Sweating
    • Cool, clammy skin or paleness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Dizziness or fainting
    • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
    • Fast or irregular pulse

According to Dr. Mayeda, chest pain is the key warning sign of a heart attack. But it may be confused with other conditions. These include heartburn, pleurisy, and pneumonia. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

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The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.