How does a heart attack occur?

It is likely that you have seen, at the very least, a character in a film or movie having a heart attack; you may even have unfortunately experienced it in real life.  Regardless of the situation, from the outside a heart attack can seem very sudden and out of the blue; but when you delve deeper inside the body and into the arteries and heart, and look at what actually causes a heart attack, it is much more predictable and expected.

How does a heart attack occur?

How does a heart attack occur?

What Is A Heart Attack?

Basically, a heart attack, otherwise known as MI or myocardial infraction is the name given to permanent damage to the heart’s muscles.  The myo part refers to muscle, while the cardial part refers to heart.  A heart attack usually occurs when tissue dies because there has not been enough blood supplied, which is what the word infraction refers to.

In order to function properly, the muscle in your heart needs to be supplied a reasonable amount of blood regularly.  The coronary arteries are where the muscle in your heart gets this blood.

Coronary Artery Disease – What is it?

This is either the blockage or narrowing of the coronary arteries because of a buildup of fatty deposits and cholesterol around the inner walls of those arteries, causing a restriction to the blood that is supplied to your heart.

This blood carries the nutrients and oxygen that the heart needs to function correctly.  Initially this can cause, angina (chest pain), but when just one or more of these arteries are blocked completely, a heart attack can happen.

Looking At It Closer

Fat building in your arteries causes minor injuries to the walls of your blood vessels which cause the cells to release special chemicals that can make the walls stickier in an attempt to repair the damage.  However when this happens, all the other substances travelling along in your blood, including calcium, proteins, waste products produced by cells and inflammatory cells begin to cling to the sticky walls.  When these substances and the fat combine they form a material known as plaque.

As time goes by, plaques of various sizes develop inside your arteries.  While most plaque build ups are soft on the inside, they are hard on the outside; and once the hard outside surface begins to break, the fatty soft inside is exposed, meaning that platelets (clotting-aiding circular particles in your blood) come into contact with the plaque and start to form clots around it.

It is the blood clotting round plaque that can eventually block the blood supply to the muscle of the heart completely, starving it of nutrients and oxygen which can then in turn lead to you suffering from acute coronary syndrome.

What Is Acute Coronary Syndrome?

This is an umbrella term given to 3 different coronary artery diseases which are connected to sudden ruptures of plaque buildup in your coronary artery.

The three different types are:

  • Unstable Angina
  • (NSTEMI) Non-ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infraction/Heart Attack
  • (STEMI) ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infraction

What Symptoms Show You May Be Suffering Or About To Suffer A Heart Attack?

The following symptoms could be the signs that a heart attack is occurring and if they last for more than 5 minutes or worry you more than you think they should, you should contact the emergency services immediately.

How does a heart attack occur?

How does a heart attack occur?

These symptoms include:

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeats
  • Anxiety, extreme weakness, dizziness or light-headedness
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Choking feeling, indigestion or fullness (may feel similar to heartburn)
  • Cold sweats or sweating
  • Shortness of breath or finding it difficult to breathe
  • Discomfort or pain in upper body areas such as the stomach, jaw, neck, back, left shoulder or arms
  • Angina – This is discomfort or pain felt in the center of your chest.  It has also been described as a squeezing feeling, fullness, numbness, burning, aching, pressure, tightness or heaviness that comes and goes or lasts for more than a few minutes.

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