Heart health

Heart Health 101: What is a Heart Attack?

The Heart is the epicenter of the human body. The functioning of every vital organ depends on the continuous blood supply made possible by the heart’s non-stop electrical rhythm. The heart muscle, known as myocardium, needs nourishment in turn. If the normal blood supply to the heart muscle tissue gets disrupted, the heart muscle begins to die, giving rise to the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Upper body pain, along left arm and shoulder blades
  • Sweating; cold, clammy sensation
  • Palpitations
  • Nausea, fatigue, often vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

This, in totality, comprises a heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction. It is a life-threatening condition. The major cause is coronary heart disease, where the coronary arteries get blocked due to plaques or clots. You need to know the details of what is a heart attack.

FAQs for Heart Attack

  1. What are the types of Heart Attacks? How are they diagnosed?
  • STEMI Heart Attack – Heart attacks caused by a complete blockage of a coronary artery. ST stands for ST-elevation myocardial infarction.
  • NSTEMI Heart Attack – A partial blockage of coronary artery results in a non-ST myocardial  infarction

There are both invasive and non-invasive methods of diagnosis.

  • Invasive Tests: Drawing and testing samples of blood, inserting a catheter into a blood vessel to get an inside view.
  • Non-Invasive Cardiac Tests: External Imaging, Electrocardiography
  1. Are there warning symptoms?

Angina (pain the chest) is the primary sign and discomfort. But, occasionally, there may be no warning signs at all. If the affected coronary artery narrows, the adjacent vessels may expand (collateral circulation) in order to compensate. This explains the absence of warning signs.

  1. What is Angina?

The pressure or squeezing like sensation in the heart from hypoxia (inadequate oxygenation) is known as angina. It can occur in the chest, neck, jaw, left arm, shoulders, or back, and is the red flag to know if someone is having a heart attack.

Angina is just the symptom of underlying diseases like Coronary Heart Disease or Coronary Microvascular Disease. All anginas are not heart attacks. One needs to know the differences in order to detect the cases which need immediate medical help.

Stable Angina/ Angina pectoris: The chest pain due to coronary heart disease; there is fullness, uncomfortable pressure, and squeezing in the center of the chest.


  • Emotional Stress
  • Exposure to extremes of temperature
  • Heavy meals
  • Smoking

Unstable Angina: Reduced blood flow to heart muscles causing acute coronary syndrome. The most common cause is atherosclerosis, where coronary arteries are narrowed due to fatty build-ups, which ultimately rupture, causing injury to the vessels. Unstable angina calls for a visit to the emergency room. It is a possible sign of a heart attack and puts you at risk of arrhythmia or cardiac arrest.

Prinzmetal Angina: Triggered by emotional stress or exertion, occurs at rest, from a spasm of the coronary arteries.

Microvascular Angina: Spasms within the wall of the heart’s smallest coronary artery blood vessels leading to coronary microvascular disease (CVD)

Anginas will last longer than 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes. The pain is severe, noticed during daily activities; fatigue and shortness of breath may accompany.

Woman holding a heart

  1. How is a Heart Attack different from a Cardiac Arrest?

Though used interchangeably, the two terms mean different things.

Heart Attack: A circulatory problem, it occurs when there is blockage of blood supply to the heart muscles.

Cardiac Arrest: It is when the heart malfunctions and stops beating all of a sudden, out of the blue. It is an unexpected electrical problem of the heart’s electrical conduction system. The irregular heart rhythms in cardiac arrest are known as arrhythmias.  A heart attack can be followed by a cardiac arrest, not the other way around. Cardiac arrests are fatal, whereas heart attacks can be controlled within the golden hour. Arrhythmias of the heart’s lower chambers, a condition known as ventricular fibrillation, causes death within minutes of the heart ceasing to beat. Cardiac arrest can be reversed with the help of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a defibrillator, which shocks the heart in order to restore a normal heart rhythm.

  1. What are the types of treatment after Heart Attack Diagnosis?
  • Thrombolysis

A clot-dissolving agent is injected into the patient to restore blood flow in a coronary artery; administered within hours of a heart attack

  • Coronary Angioplasty/ Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG)

In case thrombolysis was not done immediately, you might need to undergo angioplasty or a bypass graft surgery to improve blood supply to the heart muscle.

Is my Heart Muscle permanently damaged?

The portion of heart muscles damaged from lost blood supply heals by forming a scar tissue; this takes several weeks. The amount of injury depends on the size of the area affected and the duration between attack and treatment. Healing of every individual occurs at their own pace.

The heart has the capacity to recover, although weakened by the attack and pumping less blood than usual.

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