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Symptoms of Heart Attack

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What causes a heart attack? Coronary artery disease is the main cause of heart attacks, but a severe spasm of a coronary artery can also stop blood flow to the heart. Heart attacks occur when the heart doesn’t get enough blood.
It is crucial to act fast when in the event of a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction. Damage to the heart muscle worsens the longer a patient goes without treatment to restore blood flow.

Major symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort, especially in the center or left side. The pain typically lasts for several minutes, then can go away or come back. Be aware of uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or fullness.
  • Pain or discomfort in the back, neck or jaw.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Along with chest discomfort, shortness of breath can occur, which might manifest before chest discomfort.
  • You may break into a cold sweat, feel weak, light-headed or faint.

Other heart attack symptoms are unusual tiredness, nausea or vomiting. Women especially are prone to these symptoms. According to the CDC, one in every five female deaths is caused by heart disease.

There are several risk factors that can increase your risk for heart disease or a heart attack including your lifestyle, other health conditions, age and family history. According to the CDC, roughly half of all Americans have at least of one of the three key risk factors: smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Age and family, unfortunately, are risk factors that can’t be controlled. But healthy lifestyle changes and quitting smoking, for example, are two that you can control to lower your risk for heart disease.

Call 911 immediately if you or someone else is experiencing heart attack symptoms. The faster you get to the emergency room, the faster treatment to reduce heart muscle damage can begin and chances of surviving increase.

Sometimes, a heart attack needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or an electrical shock (defibrillation) to start pumping again. People trained in CPR or defibrillator use might be able to help while waiting for emergency medical personnel to arrive.

Recovering from a heart attack

If you have heart damage after a heart attack, your heart’s rhythm and its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body could be affected. You might also be at risk for another heart attack or a stroke, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), and kidney disorders. However, you can lower your chances of future health problems after a heart attack by following these three steps:

  • Cardiac rehabilitation— Cardiac rehab should occur under a supervised program and is important for anyone recovering from a heart attack. Rehab consists of physical activity, education about lifestyle and dietary choices, how to take prescribed medicines, and smoking cessation. Rehab may also include seeking out counseling to improve mental health by reducing stress.
  • Physical activity— After a heart attack, your doctor may ask you to limit certain activities such as work, travel or sexual activity. Inform your health care team about your daily activities.
  • Lifestyle changes— You can help improve heart health by eating a healthy diet, increasing your physical activity, managing stress, quitting smoking and taking prescribed medications.

Learn more about  cardiology care at Ochsner.

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