What Happens During a Heart Attack?

Heart attack- medically referred to as myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is drastically decreased or stopped.  This generally happens when a coronary artery, an artery that delivers blood to the heart, becomes obstructed.  Obstruction is frequently caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits called plaque in the arteries.  Atherosclerosis does not have symptoms.  The part of the heart that does not receive an adequate amount of blood begins to die.  Once part of the heart muscle dies, permanent heart damage occurs.  Acting quickly in the event of a heart attack is vital and in some cases, can prevent disability and death.

Warning Signs of Heart Attack

The American Heart Association reports that although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort.  Warning signs of a heart attack include the following:

  • Chest discomfort, generally in the center of the chest, that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back.  It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck, stomach, or back.
  • Shortness of breath that may or may not accompany discomfort in the chest.
  • Other signs including nausea, lightheadedness, or breaking out in a cold sweat. 

A heart attack is life-threatening.  Immediate treatment is vital.  If you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately.