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How to Detect a Heart Attack (And What You Should Do)

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men. About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year. With numbers like that, knowing how to detect a heart attack is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and those around you.

Here’s a rundown of what happens during a heart attack and what signs and symptoms you should watch for to prevent yourself from becoming a statistic.

What Happens During a Heart Attack?

The muscle of the heart needs a constant supply of oxygenated blood to keep it functioning as normal. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is cut off.

This can happen in a couple of ways:

1. Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the buildup of cholesterol, proteins, calcium, and inflammatory cells in the arteries that supply the heart with blood. The buildup of different matter forms plaque of different sizes.

The hard shell of the plaque deposits can sometimes crack creating a plaque rupture. This rupture causes platelets to swarm the area, forming a blood clot around the plaque. If the clot completely blocks the artery the heart becomes starved of oxygen.

The heart only needs to be cut off from oxygen for a short time for the death of muscle cells to occur, causing permanent damage.

2. Coronary Artery Spasm

Coronary artery spasm is less common than coronary artery disease but still a significant cause of heart attack.

A coronary artery spasm is a spasm of the arteries leading to the heart. It can temporarily restrict the blood supply to the heart. If the spasm persists on and off, it will also reduce the amount of oxygenated blood that makes it to the heart muscle.

Can the Heart Heal from a Heart Attack?

The heart muscle begins healing very soon after a heart attack and takes about eight weeks to fully recover.

Because the healed area of the heart forms a scar tissue, the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively may be lessened after a heart attack.

How to Detect a Heart Attack

Heart attack symptoms can vary depending on the age and gender of the sufferer. Women in particular experience heart attacks in very different ways to men.

Heart attack symptoms include:

  • Pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest. The sensation can last more than a few minutes or can go away and come back.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, jaw, neck, or stomach.
  • Lightheadedness, sweating or nausea.

While both men and women can experience chest pressure during a heart attack, women sometimes don’t experience chest pressure or discomfort at all. Instead, they’re more likely to experience jaw pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or extreme fatigue.

What You Should Do

At the first sign of a heart attack, you should seek emergency medical treatment.

Heart attacks should be treated within one to two hours of symptom onset. The longer you wait, the more damage your heart will sustain, and the lower your chances of survival.

Heart Attacks Are Serious Business

Survival rates for a heart attack exceed 90% so long as the patient receives timely treatment. As such, knowing how to detect a heart attack could mean the difference between life or death.

Now that you know the signs to watch for you can better keep yourself and those around you safer.

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