Heart attack, heart attack or myocardial infarction is often a life-threatening and acute disease of the heart. This leads to the death (infarction) of heart tissue or heart muscle (myocardium). The circulatory disturbance that follows (ischemia) leads to the well-known heart attack.
What is a heart attack?
According to abbreviationfinder, a heart attack is a disease of the heart that is life-threatening for humans. This is also known colloquially as a heart attack or myocardial infarction. In human medicine, the abbreviation AMI (so-called acute myocardial infarction) is used for heart attack. But what exactly is a heart attack? A part of the heart muscle (so-called myocardium) dies due to the occlusion of one of the three coronary arteries.
This happens due to a circulatory disorder that occurs regularly for a period longer than 20 minutes. This is usually caused by a blood clot blocking one of the coronary arteries during a heart attack. The blood can no longer circulate there. The result is an interruption in the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart. If it is not possible to open this closure of the heart muscle again, the part of the heart muscle that should actually be supplied by this vessel dies.
But what causes a heart attack? Heart disease of this type is becoming more and more common in industrialized countries. In Germany, around 250,000 people suffer a heart attack every year. A full 50 percent of these newly diagnosed patients die within four weeks of suffering a heart attack.
Various risk factors promote heart muscle disease: for example, being overweight, lack of exercise, but also consuming nicotine. Other age-independent factors can be: diabetes mellitus (diabetes), high blood pressure or a family history (particularly heart disease in close blood relatives).
Another increasing risk factor is the stress level. Sudden exertion and/or extreme stressful situations that result in a sharp fluctuation in blood pressure can trigger a heart attack. About 40 percent of all heart attacks are registered in the morning (between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.) and especially on Mondays.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
A heart attack is characterized by sudden pain behind the breastbone, which quickly increases in intensity and lasts for a long time. The pain often radiates to the left arm (rarely also to the right), to the shoulder, the upper abdomen or the lower jaw.
In addition, there is typically a feeling of tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and often dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting. The patient is pale and cold-sweaty, he suffers from severe restlessness to the point of fear of death. The level of blood pressure does not allow a reliable conclusion to be drawn about a heart attack: It can drop due to the restricted cardiac activity, but it can also be increased as a result of an increased release of stress hormones.
In women, a heart attack is often less noticeable and is therefore often not recognized as such, or is recognized too late. Chest pains occur less frequently; shortness of breath, a feeling of pressure in the chest area, nausea and vomiting are usually the main symptoms. Those affected often complain of pain in the upper abdomen, which is often misinterpreted as stomach problems. A heart attack can also be hidden behind a fainting spell without any other symptoms.
In both sexes, shortness of breath, chest pain and a feeling of tightness in the chest that occurs under stress for a long time before the heart attack can indicate the onset of a circulatory disorder in the heart.
How do I recognize the occurrence of a heart attack? The occurrence of a heart attack is usually expressed by chest pains of varying severity and quality, depending on how the sick person feels. The feeling of strong pressure behind the breastbone or a feeling of tightness ( oppression ) in the entire area of the chest are typical signs of a heart attack.
The pain that is felt usually also affects the left arm, shoulder, neck, upper abdomen or back. This pain usually lasts more than 20 minutes.
Accompanying symptoms of a heart attack are often sweating, nausea or even vomiting. The occurrence of dangerous cardiac arrhythmias in the so-called acute phase of a heart attack makes even minor heart attacks life-threatening.
In women in particular, there are other symptoms of a heart attack: shortness of breath, general weakness, upset stomach and physical exhaustion.
The heart attack leads to very serious and life-threatening symptoms and complications, which often lead to the death of the patient. As a rule, even after treatment of the heart attack, the life expectancy of the person affected is greatly reduced. The other symptoms depend heavily on how long after the infarction the treatment begins.
Early treatment minimizes the risk of irreversible consequential damage. During the heart attack, the person affected suffers from severe pain in the chest and feelings of anxiety. Sweating and panic attacks occur. It is not uncommon for those affected to vomit and lose consciousness. A fall can result in serious injury.
As the heart attack progresses, brain damage occurs and tissue throughout the body dies. As a result, regions in the brain can be irreversibly damaged and organs can die off. The damage in the brain then leads to limitations in the patient’s thinking and actions and possibly to restricted movement. Treatment is with medication or surgery. However, it is not uncommon for the patient to die from a heart attack if treatment cannot be initiated early enough.
When should you go to the doctor?
Since a heart attack is a medical emergency, an emergency service must be alerted immediately if it occurs. The person concerned is in acute mortal danger, which makes immediate action necessary. Without prompt and professional medical care for the patient, the patient will die within a short period of time.
Until the emergency doctor arrives, the instructions of the emergency services must be followed in order to ensure the survival of the patient. In particular, adequate ventilation must be guaranteed so that the consequential damage is kept to a minimum. However, it is advisable to consult a doctor as soon as there are warning signs of a heart attack.
If the person concerned suffers from tachycardia, high blood pressure or circulatory disorders over a longer period of time, these must be examined and checked in good time. If there is pain in the chest or a pulling sensation in the left upper arm, a medical evaluation of the symptoms should be carried out. If the person concerned feels unwell, complains of a general feeling of illness or persistent weakness, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
A check-up is recommended in the event of a drop in the usual level of performance, a noticeable decrease in physical ability or the feeling of burnout. If you experience sleep disorders, concentration problems or attention disorders, you should consult a doctor. A feeling of tightness in the chest is considered unusual and should be investigated.
Treatment & Therapy
But even after a heart attack, there are various treatment options available, all of which (should) aim to relieve the damaged heart muscle, but also to prevent the heart attack from spreading further and to restore blood circulation. Of course, the following treatment methods can also be combined with each other to increase the result:
- Blood-thinning therapy ( aspirinand heparinare often used for this purpose).
- Beta blockers, which lead to direct relief of the heart muscle.
- Drugs to lower blood pressure, painkillers, tranquilizers.
- The vessel closed by the heart attack can be opened by so-called lysis therapy or by balloon dilatation with the help of a heart catheter examination.
Outlook & Forecast
The prognosis of a heart attack is linked to the timing of medical care. In most cases, the patient requires immediate emergency and intensive care treatment to ensure survival. The risk of death from a heart attack is very high. With increasing age, the death rate increases immensely. Patients over the age of 75 are three times more likely to die than the average adult.
In addition, a heart attack usually leads to lifelong impairments and health problems. In addition to signs of paralysis, functional disorders and mental stress, there can be loss of work and severe restrictions on the usual lifestyle. The general way of life must be changed and adapted to the circumstances of the patient.
Medical care in the first two hours after the heart attack is crucial for the further course. If the ventricular fibrillation can be stopped and the cardiac arrhythmias corrected, the patient has a good long-term prognosis.
If cardiac insufficiency develops or if the coronary arteries are permanently impaired, the prognosis worsens. Within two years after a heart attack, about 5-10% of patients die of sudden cardiac death. With a healthy lifestyle, optimal nutrition and avoidance of stress, the outlook improves.
How can you reduce or prevent the risk of a heart attack? The risk of a heart attack can be significantly reduced with the help of the following points:
- You should (have) measure your blood pressure regularly. Adults over the age of 40 in particular should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart. Values below 130 to 80 are considered good.
- One should eat healthily. A conscious and healthy diet reduces the risk of a heart attack. Saturated fatty acids, especially in animal products such as butter, ahne, pork, etc., should be avoided, as they increase the cholesterol level in the blood.
- One should exercise enough. In particular, light endurance sports such as Nordic walking, cycling or swimming reduce the risk of a heart attack.
- If you are overweight, you should reduce this overweight. Already 10 kilos too much have a negative effect on our health, both blood pressure and blood lipid levels increase.
- One should give oneself a smoking ban. Just six cigarettes a day doubles the risk of a heart attack, so stay away from it!
- You should also avoid stress as much as possible. Basically, the body can withstand stressful situations, but you should not overdo it here, as this can lead to high blood pressure.
The most important thing after a heart attack is to avoid further attacks. The patient must be aware that the underlying disease that led to the heart attack is still present. The main cause is usually arteriosclerosis. However, this affects not only the heart, but the vessels of the entire body. The elimination of risk factors is therefore one of the most important goals in follow-up care after a heart attack.
In most cases, a fundamental change in lifestyle is necessary. The fact that smoking may have to be given up is the top priority here. Smoking also causes the vessels, which are already strained, to narrow and is considered the number 1 risk factor. Sport and exercise ensure that the body has a better metabolic result.
Last but not least, a balanced and healthy diet is important after a heart attack. From a medical point of view, the blood values should be kept in mind, especially the cholesterol values should be checked regularly. If high blood pressure has also been diagnosed, this should be adjusted appropriately with medication, otherwise further vascular damage can occur.
Diabetes checks should also be carried out by the doctor treating you. By excluding the risk factors, the risk of another heart attack is minimized, but the patient must always be aware that the underlying disease persists and that the measures mentioned are consistently incorporated into his or her everyday life.
You can do that yourself
An acute heart attack is a life-threatening situation in which the emergency doctor must be called immediately. However, patients can help to ensure that it doesn’t get that far and consult a doctor at the first early warning signs.
A heart attack is almost always on the horizon. Those affected often have chest pains that are described as oppressive and feel a strong pressure behind the breastbone. At the latest as soon as the pain begins to radiate into the left arm or shoulder, a doctor should be consulted. Women often have slightly different symptoms. The chest pain is then accompanied by shortness of breath, stomach upset and a feeling of general exhaustion.
Heart attack is still a male disease, which is why many doctors underestimate the risk in women. Patients who observe the symptoms described in themselves should therefore explicitly point out the possibility of a heart attack. This is especially true if the person belongs to a risk group or other family members have already suffered a heart attack.
The risks that significantly increase the risk of suffering a heart attack include an unhealthy lifestyle, especially obesity, too little physical exercise, excessive consumption of animal products (meat, sausage products, fatty cheese, butter, cream) and regular high alcohol and nicotine consumption. Avoiding these risk factors is the best self-help measure against a heart attack. If you suffer from high blood pressure, you should also have it checked regularly by a doctor.