Heart Attack Treatment

What Occurs During a Heart Attack?

Many people have heart attacks every year, but few actually know what happens during a heart attack.

There are several things that occur right away as warning signs, but once these signs are over, there are several other events that occur within your body and your heart. Here's what happens during a heart attack.

Warning Signs

At the beginning of a heart attack, you're going to start feeling some discomfort in your chest. This pain can take several forms, including squeezing, fullness, pressure, or a dull ache. It can be a mild pain at first, or it can come on very strong. You may feel this pain spread to one or both of your arms, your neck, your jaw, or your stomach. You might also find it difficult to breath, feel nauseated, get lightheaded, start sweating, or actually faint. Many people start feeling very anxious when these warning signs begin. These symptoms can last for more than 30 minutes.

Causes of a Heart Attack

A heart attack is caused by blockage to the heart. This blockage is most often caused by a condition known as coronary artery disease, or CAD. In CAD, plaque builds up on the inside walls of the main arteries that supply blood to the heart (the coronary arteries) over many years. These clots can grow so large that the artery becomes completely blocked, leaving the heart without blood and oxygen. They can also cause the artery to rupture, which results in a blood clot.

A heart attack can also be caused by a coronary spasm, although this is fairly rare. The coronary arteries sometimes spasm, or restrict themselves, causing the blood supply to the heart to be reduced. It's uncertain what causes these spasms, and they can occur at any time. They don't seem to be connected to CAD at all.

The Effects of a Heart Attack

The low flow of blood means that less oxygen gets into the heart muscles, and this lack of oxygen can quickly damage the blocked off section of the heart. If oxygen isn't restored quickly enough, that section of heart can actually die, resulting in permanent damage. Scar tissue will form in place of the dead heart tissue, and it can then lead to irregular heartbeat or heart failure, both of which can be fatal.

The Healing Process

Once the heart attack is over and the patient has a normal heart beat and flow of blood, the heart muscles begin healing themselves almost right away. However, it will take around eight weeks or so for a person's heart to truly heal itself as much as it can. Scar tissue will form around the areas that lost oxygen flow, and this scar tissue won't pump quite as well as healthy tissue does. This means your heart will no longer be able to supply as much blood to your body as it once did, which can result in a restriction on your activities.