Heart Attack - Know the Risk Factors Complications and Treatment Before It’s too Late
In India, 1 person dies every 33 seconds due to heart attack, making the people of the country victim to the disease 10 years ahead of their western counterparts. Heart attack has become one of the deadliest and the major cause of death across the world.
- Build-up of plaque in the arteries is the most common reason behind heart attack
- High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and family history remains biggest risk factors
- Following regular exercise routine, abstaining from smoking and stressful life can prevent heart attack
There are over 30 million heart patients in the country with 50 percent cases reported under the age of 55 years. And the shocking thing is 25 percent heart attacks occur in people under the age of 40. The situation is horrific, to say the least.
Great strides have been made in the past decades to treat heart attacks and make people aware of this life-threatening disease and the same is still going on. So, looking at the severity of the condition, let’s take a brief look at heart attack, its symptoms, treatment, and how to prevent it.
In medical terminology, a heart attack is known as myocardial infarction. This is a very serious condition in which a part of heart muscles dies due to blockage of the blood supply. Like any muscle of the body, our heart also requires an adequate amount of blood supply and nutrients to function properly.
Heart has basically three coronary arteries; two of these are large, branching arteries supplying oxygenated blood to the heart muscles. When one of these two gets blocked suddenly, a part of the heart is starved of oxygen.
If this blockage or starvation continues for long, the tissues of the heart dies. This is known as heart attack or myocardial infarction.
Reasons behind heart attack
- The most common reason behind heart attack is the buildup of plaques in the coronary artery. Plaques, in simple terms, are sticky deposits of fat, cholesterol and other substances that interrupt or obstruct the blood flow in the arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis.
- Heart attack also occurs when plaques rupture and spill cholesterol into the bloodstream, leading to the formation of blood clot in the arteries.
- Another reason behind heart attack is the muscle contraction (spasm) of the coronary arteries that stops the blood flow, although it’s rare.
- Heart attack can also occur when arteries tear up inside the heart, a condition known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection.
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Symptoms of heart attack
Symptoms differ from person to person. But here are some points to be noted.
- The most classic symptom of heart attack is chest pain that may radiate up to the arms and jaw, accompanied by sweating and intense fear. But many people don’t have these symptoms at all.
Rather, they would complain about discomfort at the back, neck,shoulders, arms or stomach. Some may complain of uncomfortable pressure or feeling of fullness.
- Some people experience shortness of breath before or alongside chest pain.
- Some may experience sudden nausea and vomiting.
- Heartburn is also a sign of heart attack which is most common in women.
Having said that, signs of heart attack are of such a nature that they can be easily overlooked, just due to misapprehension, that the symptoms might go away on their own. And sometimes they do go away. These are the people who are later diagnosed with silent heart attack.
The problem is that all types of heart attack conditions including the silent one lead to permanent damage to the heart muscle. The damage can be serious enough to cause disability and shorten life expectancy. This brings us to the next course of our discussion.
Complications of heart attack
- Heart attack can upset normal rhythms, leading to irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
- When heart doesn’t pump up the blood well enough, heart failure can occur.
- Cardiogenic shock is the condition in which the heart gets so damaged that it can lead to multiple organ failure such as kidney or liver
- As a result of heart attack, valves can be affected causing them to leak
- Damage to heart muscle can weaken the heart, increasing the chances of recurrence or subsequent heart attacks at later stages
- Heart attack increases the risk of sudden death
Risk Factors of heart attack
Various risk factors can lead to heart attack. Some of them are unavoidable or you don’t have an option such as age and family history. Other factors are known as modifiable risk factors that you can adjust to your lifestyle. We will briefly point out them all.
- Age 65 and above
- Men are at increased risk of heart attack than women
- Family history of heart disease
- People of African descent are more vulnerable
- High blood pressure
- Lack of physical activity
- Alcohol consumption
How heart attack is diagnosed?
Diagnosis of the risk factors of heart attack can be simply made by mainly two tests:
This test determines the heart’s electrical activity. The electrodes attached to your skin record the impulses and prints on a paper. The ECG may show that a heart attack is either occurred or is in progress.
If your heart is damaged, certain enzymes will slowly leak into your blood. The doctor would take the sample of your blood to check the presence of these enzymes
If you’re diagnosed positive in the tests, the doctor will further order you to go through additional tests followed by treatment. These tests include:
To check the size of the heart and blood vessels
This procedure helps the doctor determine areas of the plaque buildup. For that, a thin tube called catheter is inserted in an artery or blood vessel, typically through the leg. The doctor might also inject a liquid dye through this catheter; the dye will make the blockage visible.
CT scan or MRI
These imaging techniques can be applied to diagnose the extent of damage from heart attack.
Treatment Procedures and Medications
- Coronary Angioplasty - This procedure is usually conducted immediately after cardiac catheterization. This type of catheter will be fitted with a special balloon and inserted through the leg to reach the arteries of heart.
Once in position, the balloon is then inflated, clearing up the blockage and restoring blood flow. Most often a metal stent is inserted to keep the arteries open for a long time.
- Pacemaker - This is a device designed to help maintain a normal heart rhythm. This is usually implanted in the skin.
- Heart valve surgery - This procedure replaces faulty heart valves, helping in the normal pumping of heart. This is an open heart surgery.
- Bypass surgery - As the name denotes, this procedure reroutes the blood flow around the blockage by taking blood vessels from another area of the body
- Heart Transplant - This is the last option remains when the severe heart attack causes death of most of the heart tissues.
- Aspirin to reduce blood clotting
- Blood thinners to prevent further blood clotting
- Pain relievers to ease discomfort
- Nitrates to increase blood flow to the heart
- Beta-blockers to relax the heart muscles and prevent future heart damage
- ACE inhibitors to reduce blood pressure and stress on the heart
Prevention of heart attack
While there are many things that are out of our control, yet adjusting our lifestyle can make a whole lot of change. Some of the tips to prevent heart attack are:
- Quit smoking
- Take healthy balanced diet
- Follow regular exercise regime
- Avoid or limiting alcohol intake
- Check blood glucose regularly if you have diabetes
- Avoid stressful life
With the advancement of medical science and what we have learned so far in the past decades, chances of dying and permanent disability have been greatly reduced. However, heart attack is a serious medical condition. If you show any of the signs and symptoms, don’t delay talking to your doctor.