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Heart attack (myocardial infarction): Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About heart attack (myocardial infarction)

A heart attack, medically termed as myocardial infarction is a medical emergency which results from insufficient flow of oxygenated blood to the heart muscles. The heart is a vital organ of the human body which is responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to all the body organs. The coronary arteries are responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to the heart. Any blockage in them may result in inadequate supply of blood to the heart muscles resulting in a heart attack.

Heart attack (myocardial infarction): Incidence, age and sex

A heart attack is seen mainly in individuals above the age of 50 years but younger adults may also be affected. It has a higher predilection for men as compared to women.

Signs and symptoms of heart attack (myocardial infarction): Diagnosis

The clinical features of heart attack may vary from person to person. It is slow in onset and characterized by chest discomfort or chest pain. Some individuals may describe it as tightness or choking sensation in the chest. This pain is typical and is termed as angina. The chest pain may also spread to the jaw, the left shoulder and the left arm. The pain may last for a few minutes to hours and does not go away with rest. It may be associated with nausea, perspiration, cold hands and feet and breathlessness. Sometimes heart attack may be ‘silent’ as seen in diabetics, and may not present with any symptoms.

Medical attention is urgently needed when one experiences such symptoms. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is the first investigation that is advised but a normal ECG does not rule out heart attack. Other tests like echocardiography, radionuclide scan or even angiography may be needed to establish the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of heart attack (myocardial infarction)

Heart attack results from underlying ischemic heart disease (IHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD). A pathological process called ‘atherosclerosis’ causes deposition of a fatty substance (plaque) in the coronary artery, which in turn causes narrowing of its lumen resulting in reduced blood flow to heart. This results in coronary artery disease which is responsible for heart attack. Several risk factors may cause this heart problem which includes obesity, high cholesterol in blood, sedentary lifestyle, emotional stress, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and family history of heart disease.

Ischemic heart disease (IHD) may be prevented by lifestyle modifications like regular physical activity, smoking cessation and reducing emotional stress level. Dietary modifications like low fat and low salt diet with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables are advisable.

Heart attack (myocardial infarction): Complications

Heart attack is a potentially life-threatening condition which may result in death, if immediate medical attention is not given.

Heart attack (myocardial infarction): Treatment

It is very important to provide immediate treatment to an individual with heart attack to prevent permanent damage to heart. Thrombolytic drugs are immediately given to dissolve the clot and remove the blockage from coronary artery. Other medications like nitrates, beta blockers or calcium channel blockers are also prescribed. A procedure called ‘angioplasty’ may also be recommended wherein the blocked artery is opened through an inflatable balloon tube. Moreover some individuals may be recommended a surgical management called ‘bypass surgery’. Control of high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol with appropriate dietary and pharmaceutical measures is of paramount importance in the treatment of heart patients.