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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Disease and Heart Attacks

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

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

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

What Do I Do if I Have a Heart Attack?

After a heart attack, quick treatment to open the blocked artery is essential to decrease the amount of damage. At the first signs of a heart attack, call for emergency treatment (usually 911). Waiting before treatment increases the risk of damage to your heart and also reduces your chance of survival.

Keep in mind that chest discomfort can be described many ways. It can occur in the chest or in the arms, back or jaw. If you have any of these symptoms, take them seriously. 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 as well as your test results. The goal of treatment is to treat you quickly and limit heart muscle damage.

Tests to Diagnose Heart Attacks

  • Electrocardiogram. The electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) can provide information about the extent and location of heart muscle damage. It also detects your heart rate and rhythm.

  • 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 the bloodstream. By measuring the levels of these enzymes, the doctor can determine approximately when the heart attack started.
  • Echocardiography. An echocardiogram (also called an echo) is an ultrasound test that can be used to learn how the heart is pumping overall and what areas might not be pumping normally. The echo can also determine if any structures of the heart (such as the valves and septum) have been injured during the heart attack.
  • Cardiac catheterization. Cardiac catheterization, also called a cardiac cath or an angiogram, is an invasive test performed to directly visualize (using X-rays) the size and extent of blockage in the coronary arteries. It is frequently recommended in the first hours of a heart attack if medications are not relieving the ischemia or symptoms. The cardiac catheterization can be used to help your doctor determine which procedure is needed to treat the blockage. Balloon angioplasty, coronary stenting, and coronary artery bypass surgery may be recommended in addition to medications.

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