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Heart Attack Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Heart disease leads to a heart attack in more than a million American men and women every year. The medical term for heart attack is myocardial infarction (MI), which means the heart muscle has suffered permanent damage. Other common words you might hear related to heart attack include congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, or congenital heart disease.

Understanding the causes and symptoms of a heart attack will equip you to be able to recognize it early and seek medical assistance quickly. Explained below are the most common signs of a heart attack, how a heart attack is diagnosed, and the treatments given once a heart attack has occurred.

Common Symptoms of a Heart Attack

If you experience pain or pressure in your chest, arm or below your breastbone, this is probably the most recognizable symptom of a heart attack. Pain can move to your jaw, back, arm or throat. You might feel severely weak in body, become very anxious, or have difficulty breathing. Your heartbeat might become irregular or very rapid. You can also develop excessive sweating, vomiting, or feel dizzy for no apparent reason.

A symptom that’s often mistaken as heartburn is the feeling similar to indigestion, which is fullness or a choking sensation. These are symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore. Even if it’s a false alarm, you don’t want to take any chances.

Though recognizing heart attack symptoms is important, symptoms don’t always occur during a heart attack. A common type of heart attack among diabetics is a silent heart attack, or silent MI, where no symptoms are detected.

What to do when Symptoms Occur

If you experience the symptoms above, you should seek medical attention immediately. There’s no time to lose. The more quickly you receive treatment, the less damage will occur to your heart. You’re more likely to survive if you seek help at the first sign of a heart attack. The first hour is critical.

Diagnosing a Heart Attack

To determine whether or not you’ve had a heart attack, the medical team will perform an ECG (electrocardiogram) to assess the damage to your heart, and to find the exact location of the damage. Your heart rate will be monitored also. A blood test will be performed to determine the level of cardiac enzymes in your blood. These can also help the doctor determine how severe your heart attack was and when it started.

An imaging test called echo cardiography will also be performed to test the heart’s pumping ability. Cardiac catheterization might or might not be done, depending on how the medications are working.

Treatment for the Heart Attack

Treatment for a heart attack begins immediately, and normally involves surgeries and medications. Some of the medications used are aspirin or antiplatelets, which both help to prevent blood clotting, and thrombolytic therapy, which dissolves blood clots.

Surgery isn’t always necessary and the type of surgery performed is dependent upon the blockage severity, status of the heart and success of the medications. Bypass surgery is usually performed in the case of a severe blockage to help restore the proper amount of blood to the heart.

Although the surgeries and medications can relieve heart attack symptoms and restore your heart back to a “near” normal state if the damage is not too great, you’re still at risk for another attack. Take the steps recommended by your doctor to prevent a second heart attack from occurring. Your doctor will probably talk with you about proper eating, exercise and quitting any activities that could be affecting your heart in a negative way.

The best route is to take steps to avoid a heart attack before one occurs. Ask your doctor if you’re at risk now and what steps you can take to keep your heart healthy.

« Common Symptoms and Early Prevention of Coronary Artery Disease | Home | Start with a Healthy Heart Checkup »

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