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Heart Attack

What is a Heart Attack?


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Summary & Participants

A heart attack is caused when a blockage forms in the heart's blood vessels. Knowing what causes a heart attack and how to prevent it could save your life.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript


ANNOUNCER: A heart attack is a sudden condition caused by a blockage in the arteries that feed blood to the heart. When that happens, sections of heart muscle can become severely damaged and die.

DAVID F. KONG, MD: Heart attacks are very common. In fact, there are approximately 7 million people in the United States living today who have had a previous heart attack or other symptoms from blockages of the blood vessels that feed the heart.

ANNOUNCER: Myocardial infarction is the medical term for heart attack.

DAVID F. KONG, MD: Myocardial infarction is a blockage of the blood vessels that feed the heart. Fundamentally, "myocardial" means heart muscle, and "infarction" means a strangling, essentially.

ANNOUNCER: A heart attack can lead to heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and sometimes death. Cardiac arrest is a dangerous condition that can also result from a heart attack. It occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating.

DAVID F. KONG, MD: Cardiac arrest is when the heart doesn't do its job and doesn't develop a pulse or doesn't develop a blood pressure. As a result, people who have cardiac arrest are often not conscious, have no breathing and have no pulse.

DAVID R. HOLMES, Jr., MD: The difference between a myocardial infarction and a cardiac arrest is incredibly important, because most of the time in patients with myocardial infarction, we can have them survive. They get to the hospital, and we can treat them. The problem with cardiac arrest is that that is often a lethal event. That's the sort of situation where a person is walking down the street, falls over dead.

ANNOUNCER: There are different signs and symptoms of heart attacks that everyone should be aware of.

DAVID R. HOLMES, Jr., MD: The signs and symptoms of a heart attack can vary. The typical sign that we would look for would be the development of chest discomfort or upper body discomfort that lasts. It may be associated with shortness of breath, sweating, but it would be described as a sense of fullness or pressure that lasts for more than 15 minutes.

Women oftentimes have different symptoms, and they often have a delayed presentation: perhaps nausea, perhaps just an uneasy feeling. But not the typical findings that we would usually see in men.

ANNOUNCER: Many times a heart attack can be avoided. There are things you can do to help prevent a heart attack from occurring in the first place.

DAVID F. KONG, MD: There are a lot of risk factors that sometimes people can change to reduce the risk of having a heart attack. These: include level of activity; controlling weight; diet, especially avoiding foods that are high in fat and high in cholesterol, and avoidance of tobacco.

ANNOUNCER: But if you think you may be experiencing a heart attack, what you do early on can affect your chances for survival.

DAVID F. KONG, MD: Aspirin has been considered to be very important in initial treatment of people who are having heart attacks. We know that people who use aspirin can reduce their risk of dying from their heart attack by about 30 percent.

For people experiencing signs or symptoms of a heart attack, the important thing to remember is that time is crucial. The important thing is to dial 911 to get emergency responders available to you, and the sooner that you're able to seek medical attention, the better your odds are of survival and of reducing the amount of impairment that you might have later on.

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