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Your cardiovascular system is made up of the heart and the blood vessels that transport blood all throughout your body. The heart, which is a large fist-sized muscle, is the core of your cardiovascular system. Located leftward in your chest, the heart works as a pump for the blood, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to your body’
Introduction
 
A heart attack, medically termed a myocardial infarction, is a life-threatening emergency condition that is the leading cause of death. A heart attack occurs when the heart cannot function due to the heart muscle receiving insufficient oxygenated blood.
 
Call an ambulance immediately if you suspect that you or someone else is having a heart attack. Symptoms include shortness of breath, pain that spreads from the chest to the jaws, teeth, shoulders, or arms, pain or pressure in the middle of the chest, nausea, and vomiting. Since a heart attack could be fatal, obtain emergency medical care immediately to sustain life and prevent further medical complications.
 
Anatomy
 
Your cardiovascular system is made up of the heart and the blood vessels that transport blood all throughout your body. The heart, which is a large fist-sized muscle, is the core of your cardiovascular system. Located leftward in your chest, the heart works as a pump for the blood, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to your body’s cells while carrying away waste products.
 
A thick wall, called the septum, divides your heart into four sections called chambers. The upper two chambers, called atria, receive incoming blood to the heart, while the bottom chambers, called ventricles, send blood outward from the heart.
 
Your heart manages dual pumping systems with one on the left side and one on the right side. The left side’s system comprises the left ventricle and left atrium. When you breathe in, your lungs infuse your blood with new oxygen. Your left atrium receives this newly oxygenated blood and moves it to the left ventricle, which sends it out from your heart to circulate all through the rest of your body.
 
The right side’s pumping system is composed of the right ventricle and right atrium. Deoxygenated blood that has finished circulating throughout the body comes back to the right atrium, which then sends it to the right ventricle. The blood is then sent by the right ventricle to the lungs, where it will receive a fresh supply of oxygen when you inhale.
 
Four valves prevent blood from flowing backward as it travels through the chambers of the heart. The tricuspid and mitral valves control flow from the atria to the ventricles, while the pulmonary and aortic valves regulate blood as it departs the ventricles.
 
Blood vessels that send oxygenated blood outward from the heart are called arteries. Of all the blood vessels in your body, the aorta is the largest. The left ventricle is separated from the aorta by the aortic valve. Coronary arteries branch off from the aorta to keep the heart supplied with nutrients and oxygen-rich blood to keep it healthy. Deoxygenated blood from the right ventricle is carried to the lungs by the pulmonary artery.
 
Vessels that deliver used blood from your lungs and body back to the heart are called veins. The two largest veins in your body are the superior and inferior vena cavae, which are located below and above your heart.
 
Your heart is surrounded by large veins and arteries, which branch out and become tinier as they travel throughout your body. Arteries and veins are connected by small capillaries, which deliver nutrients and oxygen while removing waste products like carbon dioxide.
 
Causes
 
A heart attack occurs when insufficient oxygen supplies causes heart muscle cells to be damaged or die. The majority of heart attacks are caused by clots that block the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of clots.
 
Atherosclerosis is a condition that causes plaque build-up and artery hardening. Blood cannot flow efficiently if arteries are hardened and thickened, and plaque build-up within the arteries can crack and cause blood clot formation. A clot in the coronary artery is serious because it blocks blood from flowing to the heart muscle and triggers cell death.
 
When cells within the heart muscle die, they form scar tissue called a collagen scar. This scar tissue lacks the ability to contract, causing the heart to permanently become weaker. Other muscles in the heart will attempt to make up for the damaged tissue, prompting a rapid heart rate that inhibits the heart from pumping blood. The decreased blood pressure and decreased output of oxygenated blood may result in a heart attack or even death.
 
Extreme stress, exertion, and cocaine use can also cause heart attacks. Cocaine triggers spasms in the coronary arteries. A sudden severe infection, like pneumonia, may also initiate heart attacks.
 
Symptoms
 
A heart attack is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate help. Potentially fatal, a heart attack requires emergency treatment as soon as possible to sustain life and reduce the chances of permanent heart damage or death.
 
Heart attacks may start out slowly or occur intensely and suddenly. A heart attack may cause pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the chest that comes and goes. It may feel similar to having bad indigestion. There may be pain that spreads to your teeth, jaws, neck, shoulder, arms, back, or abdomen. Symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and a cold sweat.
 
The most common symptom is chest discomfort. However, women are more likely to suffer overwhelming fatigue, back or jaw pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
 
Diagnosis
 
Your symptoms and a physical exam will allow your doctor to determine if you are having a heart attack. Signs include abnormal heart sounds, abnormal lung sounds, and a fast pulse. Blood pressure can be low, normal, or high. Blood tests can indicate the presence of substances associated with heart attacks.
 
Several tests can identify a heart attack and the extent of the resulting damage. Commonly, doctors use electrocardiogram, coronary angiography, echocardiogram, and nuclear ventriculography. An electrocardiogram can be repeated over the course of several hours. An echocardiogram produces images of the heart using sound waves. A coronary angiography uses dye and an X-ray to create images of the heart and its arteries. A nuclear ventriculography produces a picture of the heart using a safe radioisotope injection and special scanners.
 
Treatment
 
A heart attack is a life-threatening medical emergency that can result in death, making immediate emergency medical services necessary to sustain life. Call an ambulance immediately if you suspect a heart attack.
 
Help someone having a heart attack breathe more easily by adjusting them to a restful position such as a half-sitting position. Increase their flow of oxygen by opening a window and loosening their collar. If they are not allergic to aspirin, make them chew 160 to 320 mg of aspirin, which helps prevent blood clotting. Monitor their heart rate, breathing, pulse, level of consciousness, and blood pressure. Have a trained person administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the victim’s heart stops.
 
Medical personnel can administer CPR or use automatic external defibrillation if the person’s heart stops beating. Automatic external defibrillation can correct an erratic heart rhythm or restart a heart that has gone still. They are often placed around public places for quick access.
 
For the best outcome, early advanced medical care is required. People who have just suffered a heart attack will typically be monitored in the intensive care unit of a hospital while they wait for their condition to stabilize. Sometimes, emergency surgery may be necessary.
 
A coronary angioplasty opens blocked coronary arteries. An inserted stent keeps a coronary artery open. Minimally invasive heart surgery such as coronary artery bypass surgery can also help. This procedure involves moving a blood vessel from somewhere else in the body to restore blood flow to the heart by creating a detour that bypasses a clogged artery. Blood vessels, usually taken from the leg, are surgically attached to the coronary artery. Multiple coronary arteries may need bypass surgery.
 
Your doctor may restrict your activity level for a few months after a heart attack. Your doctor may also perform tests to identify treatable causes and learn more about your heart’s condition. With cardiac rehabilitation therapy, you can gradually increase your activity level back to normal.
 
Make lifestyle changes that promote a healthier heart. Take all medications as instructed. Maintain a healthy weight, avoid alcohol, quit smoking, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Prevent another heart attack and associated medical complications by diligently attending your follow-up care appointments and regimens.
 
Prevention
 
Be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack and call emergency medical services immediately if you suspect one is happening. Learn CPR so you can be ready to help others.
 
Know the risk factors that increase the likelihood of a heart attack. Decrease your risk by correcting the controllable risk factors, such as quitting smoking, avoiding illegal drugs, avoiding alcohol, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and monitoring your cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes. Consult with your doctor about whether preventative aspirin medication could help you.
 
Am I At Risk
 
Risk factors for heart attack include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight, diabetes, smoking, family history of heart disease, and illegal drug use. Men beyond age 45 and women beyond age 55 have higher risks of heart disease, as do African Americans and Hispanics.
 
Complications
 
Heart attacks can cause death, and every second counts when contacting emergency care. Contact emergency medical services immediately to decrease the likelihood that the victim will suffer severe permanent heart damage, develop life-threatening arrhythmias, or die.
 
Diligently adhere to your follow-up care schedule to prevent another heart attack or associated medical complications. Take all your medications as prescribed by your doctor. Associated medical complications of heart attack include congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart inflammation, and blood clots.
 
Advancements
 
Research is examining the association between bacteria, viruses, certain blood components, and heart attack. Doctors expect to use this information to better identify at-risk patients and prevent heart attacks. Public health awareness campaigns are helping to educate the public about the importance of exercise and healthy eating habits in preventing heart disease.