When you think of a heart attack, you may have an image in your mind of someone – typically a man – suddenly folded over and clutching their chest. After all, this is how it's often shown in movies and TV shows. But while this can be the case, you can feel a heart attack in other ways.
Heart attack, also called myocardial infarction, is a leading killer of men and women in the United States. The good news is that treatments can save lives and help people live an active life after a heart attack. But getting care quickly is the key.
During a heart attack, the heart's blood supply is suddenly cut off. When this happens, the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. In a short period of time, part of the heart can be damaged or die. That's why immediate care is so important – it can spare your heart and save your life. If your heart has a lot of damage, it can be very weak.
Most often, heart attacks result from a buildup of plaque inside the coronary artery (atherosclerosis). When the plaque breaks away inside of the artery, a blood clot can form, blocking blood flow through a coronary artery. Less common causes of heart attacks include an intense spasm of the coronary artery that lasts a long time or a tear in the artery wall (called spontaneous coronary artery dissection). Both of these can reduce blood flow to the heart muscle.
Having a heart attack can be scary, and it's often life-changing. For some people, it's the scare they need to live a heart healthier life – making a conscious decision to eat better, exercise, manage other risk factors such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, and not smoke. For others, they may have lived for years unaware they were even at risk.
Heart attacks are linked to heart failure and possibly life-threatening problems with how the heart beats (arrhythmias).