Mayo Clinic Information on Heart Attacks
A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is severely reduced or blocked. The blockage is usually due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the heart (coronary) arteries. The fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits are called plaques. The process of plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis.
Sometimes, a plaque can rupture and form a clot that blocks blood flow. A lack of blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.
A heart attack occurs when an artery that sends blood and oxygen to the heart is blocked. Fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits build up over time, forming plaques in the heart's arteries. If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form. The clot can block arteries, causing a heart attack. During a heart attack, a lack of blood flow causes the tissue in the heart muscle to die.
A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction.
Prompt treatment is needed for a heart attack to prevent death. Call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack.
Symptoms of a heart attack vary. Some people have mild symptoms. Others have severe symptoms. Some people have no symptoms.
Common heart attack symptoms include:
- Chest pain that may feel like pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing or aching
- Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth or sometimes the upper belly
- Cold sweat
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
- Shortness of breath
Women may have atypical symptoms such as brief or sharp pain felt in the neck, arm or back. Sometimes, the first symptom sign of a heart attack is sudden cardiac arrest.
Some heart attacks strike suddenly. But many people have warning signs and symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. Chest pain or pressure (angina) that keeps happening and doesn't go away with rest may be an early warning sign. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.