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Heart Attacks and Heart Disease

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Heart Attack Symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone
  • Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats

During a heart attack, symptoms last 30 minutes or longer and are not relieved by rest or nitroglycerin under the tongue.

Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms (a "silent" myocardial infarction). A silent MI can occur in anyone, but it is more common among people with diabetes.

What Do I Do if I Have a Heart Attack?

After a heart attack, quick treatment to open the blocked artery is essential to lessen the amount of damage. At the first signs of a heart attack, call for emergency treatment (usually 911). The best time to treat a heart attack is within one to two hours of the first onset of symptoms. Waiting longer increases the damage to your heart and reduces your chance of survival.

Keep in mind that chest discomfort can be described in many ways. It can occur in the chest or in the arms, back, or jaw. If you have symptoms, take notice. These are your heart disease warning signs. Seek medical care immediately.

How Is a Heart Attack Diagnosed?

To diagnose a heart attack, an emergency care team will ask you about your symptoms and begin to evaluate you. The diagnosis of the heart attack is based on your symptoms and test results. The goal of treatment is to treat you quickly and limit heart muscle damage.

Tests to Diagnose a Heart Attack

  • ECG. The ECG (also known as EKG or electrocardiogram) can tell how much damage has occurred to your heart muscle and where it has occurred. In addition, your heart rate and rhythm can be monitored.
  • Blood tests. Blood may be drawn to measure levels of cardiac enzymes that indicate heart muscle damage. These enzymes are normally found inside the cells of your heart and are needed for their function. When your heart muscle cells are injured, their contents -- including the enzymes -- are released into your bloodstream. By measuring the levels of these enzymes, the doctor can determine the size of the heart attack and approximately when the heart attack started. Troponin levels will also be measured. Troponins are proteins found inside of heart cells that are released when they are damaged by the lack of blood supply to the heart. Detecting troponin in the blood may indicate a heart attack.
  • Echocardiography. Echocardiography is an imaging test that can be used during and after a heart attack to learn how the heart is pumping and what areas are not pumping normally. The "echo" can also tell if any structures of the heart (valves, septum, etc.) have been injured during the heart attack.
  • Cardiac catheterization. Cardiac catheterization, also called cardiac cath, may be used during the first hours of a heart attack if medications are not relieving the ischemia or symptoms. The cardiac cath can be used to directly visualize the blocked artery and help your doctor determine which procedure is needed to treat the blockage.

 

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