Heart Attack

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What is a heart attack?

Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely (View an animation of blood flow). This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque. This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI). About every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

Why didn’t I have any warning?

The process of Atherosclerosis has no symptoms. One reason there may be no warning signs is that sometimes when a coronary artery becomes narrowed, other nearby vessels that also bring blood to the heart sometimes expand to help compensate. The network of expanded vessels is called collateral circulation and helps protect some people from heart attacks by getting needed blood to the heart. Collateral circulation can also develop after a heart attack to help the heart muscle recover.

What are other medical terms for “Heart Attack?”

Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) – An umbrella term for situations where the blood supplied to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked.

STEMI – A common name for ST-elevation myocardial infarction, a type of heart attack caused by a complete blockage in a coronary artery.

NSTEMI – A non-ST-elevated myocardial infarction, a type of heart attack in which an artery is partially blocked and severely reducing blood flow.

Myocardial infarction
– The damaging or death of an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) resulting from a blocked blood supply to that area; medical term for a heart attack.

Coronary thrombosis – Formation of a clot in one of the arteries that conduct blood to the heart muscle. Also called coronary occlusion.

Coronary occlusion – An obstruction of a coronary artery that hinders blood flow to some part of the heart muscle. A cause of heart attack.

I think I am having a heart attack, what should I do?

If at anytime you suspect you, or someone you know, is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately! If you are in the City of Waynesboro, the Emergency Medical Dispatcher will give you instructions on what to do next until an ambulance arrives.