Heart Attack : Know All About Symptoms, Causes and Intervention

Heart Attack : Know All About Symptoms, Causes and Intervention

Over a million people in the U.S. suffer heart attacks each year. Statistics by CDC reveal that every 40 seconds, someone in America has a heart attack. According to a recent report by the Indian Council of Medical Research...

Over a million people in the U.S. suffer heart attacks each year. Statistics by CDC reveal that every 40 seconds, someone in America has a heart attack. According to a recent report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), heart disease affected 28.1% of the deaths in India in 2016. 

The problem is the widespread misconception that prevails regarding heart attacks. Most common people are not aware of what it means. It occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked by something that deprives it of the required oxygen. Treat this as a medical emergency and call for help immediately at the first signs. One should not wait for the symptoms to subside or pass. Prompt action will save a life. 

In medical terminology, heart attacks are also referred to as myocardial infarctions (MIs). 

Palpable signs of a heart attack: Know when to get alerted

There are many symptoms, which might indicate a heart attack and everyone should be aware or have some prior basic knowledge about them. Always be alerted when any or a few of the following symptoms become evident:

  • When there is discomfort, some kind of pressure, feeling heaviness or tightness, squeezing, or niggling pain in your chest. The pain could be in the arm or below the breastbone.
  • If the discomfort spreads into your back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Feeling indigestion, fullness, or a choking feeling (it may be similar to heartburn)
  • When there is profuse sweating, upset tummy, dizziness, or vomiting
  • When there is severe weakness, fatigue, anxiety, or shortness of breath
  • When the heartbeat is fast or uneven 

However, not every person might experience the same symptoms. The signs may vary from individual to individual. The symptoms might also be different from one heart attack to another.

For women, the following heart attack symptoms may be somewhat common:

  • Unnatural fatigue
  • Experiencing shortness of breath
  • Feeling nauseous or a vomiting tendency
  • A sense of dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Discomfort in the gut, which may feel just like an indigestion
  • Uneasiness in the neck area, shoulder, or upper back

There is also something called "silent" myocardial infarction. People might not witness any visible symptoms of a heart attack. This is most common for people suffering from diabetes. 

Let’s discuss some important points about heart attack:

Although mostly it happens as people grow old, other factors could precipitate heart attacks at any age. One should be vigilant of certain factors that may trigger a heart attack like high blood pressure, dangerous levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), diabetes, smoking, etc. These can hasten a heart attack in people. 

Always be mindful of the above factors and bring in a lifestyle change to remain healthy and safe. All these can be changed with effort by people.  

Know the different types of heart attacks

There are many cases of heart attacks with different names and reasons, which are broadly as follows: 

STEMI: It is a heart attack where there is complete blockage of a coronary artery. 

NSTEMI: In this heart attack type a coronary artery is not completely blocked but narrowed to a great extent resulting in reduced blood flow. 

MINOCA (an acronym for myocardial infarction with non-obstructive coronary arteries): It is a kind of heart attack where are no blockages seen in the main coronary arteries. 

It is worthwhile to mention that a sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. People have a notion to assume heart attack is a problem within the heart’s arteries. 

Angina is also not a heart attack 

Angina is a symptom, and may sometimes point toward a heart attack. It is referred to as chest pain. Although it might happen with a heart attack, it can be due to other reasons also. The sensations may appear even with normal activities or exertion but do not subside after getting rest or when one takes nitroglycerin.

In the case of angina, one may feel some of the following symptoms:

  • Pressure, squeezing, pain, or a sense of fullness in the middle of the chest
  • There could be pain or discomfort in the shoulder, arm, neck, back, or jaw

One should call for emergency healthcare facilities if the symptoms worsen or last more than five minutes, or if it remains the same even after taking nitroglycerin. Healthcare professionals term this as “unstable” angina, and it’s an emergency related to an imminent heart attack.

However, there is also a term called stable angina, which is the commonest type. Symptoms of this usually appear with predictable triggers. Symptoms may come when there is a strong emotion, extreme temperatures (cold or hot), physical activity, or consuming a heavy meal. Here, symptoms vanish when the person takes rest or takes the prescribed nitroglycerin by a doctor. But, if it does not get better, call the emergency. 

Causes of heart attack

There is a constant need for oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart muscle. This critical function is carried out by the coronary arteries supplying oxygenated blood to the heart. However, when the coronary arteries get plagued by disease, they become narrow and there is impaired flow of blood. When the blood supply is disrupted and gets blocked, a person suffers a heart attack

One should be wary of the accumulation of fat, proteins, and calcium and the build-up of inflammatory cells in the arteries that form plaques, which are hard on the outer and soft and mushy on the inside. 

As the plaque becomes hard, the outer shell sometimes cracks, which is called a rupture. When a blood clot blocks the artery, your heart muscle struggles to get sufficient oxygen. As a result, over time, the muscle cells die, leading to permanent damage.

It is very unlikely or rare, but a spasm in the coronary artery can also cause a heart attack. During this coronary spasm, the arteries spasm on and off, stopping the blood supply to the heart muscle. It is called ischemia. It can take place even when one is resting and in the absence of any serious coronary artery disease.

Each coronary artery transports blood to a different part of the heart muscle. And it depends on how much the muscle is damaged based on the size of the area that the blocked artery supplies and also the time between the attack and intervention. 

A person’s heart muscle begins the healing process soon after a heart attack, and the time frame is about eight weeks. It is akin to a skin wound, and a scar forms in the injured area. However, the new scar tissue is unable to move the way it should. Consequently, the heart doesn’t function like before after a heart attack package unable to pump as much. The ability to pump corresponds to the size and location of the scar.  

After a heart attack, a person should get fast treatment to open the blocked artery and minimize the damage. At the very first signs of a heart attack, one should call the emergency as the ideal and best time to treat a heart attack is within one or two hours after symptoms appear. Waiting longer can be perilous causing more damage to the heart and lowering the chances of survival.

While waiting for the emergency services one should chew an aspirin (325 milligrams). Aspirin is a known and potent inhibitor of blood clots that can lower the risk of death by 25% from a heart attack. 

So, what should one do when someone else suffers a heart attack?

Even then call the emergency and start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), meaning the heartbeat has stopped and the person is not responding. CPR cannot restart the heart, but it will keep the person alive until emergency help arrives.

Many public places have an easy-to-use device called an AED (automated external defibrillator). It is easy to use and can be used by anyone to treat cardiac arrest. This device performs by shocking the heart to get it back into a normal rhythm.

Heart attack treatment is regarded as a medical emergency that calls for immediate care to prevent permanent heart damage or death. Treatment usually starts in the ambulance if you called the emergency. 


Some of the most common treatments for a heart attack include:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Balloon angioplasty
  • Stent placement and
  • Bypass surgery


Taking good care of the heart by leading a healthy lifestyle is paramount for everyone. Always follow the doctor’s advice after a heart attack and be in constant touch with your physician to keep a tab on your overall health.