About This Condition
Heart attacks occur when blood flow to a portion of the heart is severely reduced or cut off. The result is death of heart muscle cells (called an infarct).
Hardening and narrowing (atherosclerosis) of the coronary arteries that feed the heart is usually the underlying problem. In some cases, a blood clot blocks blood flow; other times, the narrowing is caused by atherosclerosis alone. Spasm of the coronary arteries may also cause a heart attack.
Elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, or homocysteine; angina pectoris; and diabetes are each associated with an increased risk of heart attack. Congestive heart failure can occur in some people from severe damage to the heart resulting from a heart attack.
The first symptom of a heart attack is usually deep aching or pressure-like chest pain that may radiate to the back, jaw, or left arm. Discomfort may be mild or severe. About 20% of heart attacks are silent (i.e., they cause no symptoms and may therefore be missed). Older people may experience shortness of breath. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. Restlessness, apprehension, pallor, and sweating are common.
Many hospitals perform a procedure called Primary Percutaneous Transluminal Cardiac Angioplasty (PTCA) in order to clear blocked arteries. Certain individuals might benefit more from this procedure than from thrombolytic agents.