Rising public awareness about symptoms of heart attack in men and women and several lifestyle changes have eventually contributed to a considerable reduction in the occurrence of heart attacks in the last four decades. Today, the best treatment for someone encountering a heart attack is a prompt identification of the diagnosis and transport to a hospital that can perform prompt catheterisation and PTCA or stenting within the first 90 minutes of the cardiac incidence.
Nearly one million Americans suffer from a heart attack each year. Out of these four hundred thousand of them die. There are an estimated 45 million patients of coronary artery (heart) disease in India. Statistics reveal that in India by 2020, heart diseases will account for one-third of all deaths.
What is a Heart Attack?
In plain words, a heart attack is the slow death of parts of the heart due to lack of blood flow and oxygen. This happens when blood vessels carrying blood to the heart are constricted or blocked as a result of high cholesterol levels and other substances. A heart attack is essentially a failure of the heart and can lead to the death of the patient in severe cases. This condition is medically called Myocardial Infarction, which literally means the death of the heart muscle.
Heart attacks cause an irreversible death of the heart muscle. The heart muscle continues to die for six to eight hours at which time it is usually “complete”. The dead heart muscle is eventually replaced by a scar tissue. In some cases, they are associated with a condition called ‘Silent Ischemia’, which causes sporadic interruptions of blood flow to the heart that are painless for unknown reasons, although they may damage the heart tissue. Silent ischemia is commonly seen in diabetic patients.
There is a widespread misconception around the fact that a heart attack and an angina are the same things. In reality, they are essentially the result of the same manifestation and there does exist certain nuanced differences between the two. In order to understand better, it is important to shed a little light on angina as well.
Angina, also known as angina pectoris is marked by intense pain, squeezing sensation, discomfort in the chest occasionally spreading to the shoulders, neck, and arms. It is often experienced when the heart is working harder than normal due to insufficient supply of blood to the heart muscle. Stress, extreme temperatures, cigarette smoking, and alcohol intake can also cause an angina attack.
The difference between Angina and Heart Attack?
Angina is the condition wherein the patient suffers pain or discomfort in the chest area due to reduced blood flow in the heart. Angina is an indicator of a serious heart disease, but is not directly related to heart attack, although symptomatically it may be similar. Angina hardly has fatal consequences.
Heart attack can be fatal and is characterized by the gradual failure of parts of the heart. Functional failure is characteristic to heart attack, while it is absent in angina.
A heart attack has been medically defined in a variety of different terms and ways with their own set of nuanced causes and symptoms. Therefore, if you ask a Cardiologist what is a heart attack? His answer would involve including the below-mentioned terms.
- Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS): An umbrella term for conditions wherein the blood supplied to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked due to a blockage of the coronary arteries.
- STEMI: A common name for ST-elevation myocardial infarction, a very serious type of heart attack during which one of the heart’s major arteries is completely blocked. Thus, it is fundamentally caused due to a blocked blood supply for a prolonged period of that results in affecting a large area of the heart.
- NSTEMI: A non-ST-elevated myocardial infarction, a type of heart attack in which an artery is partially blocked, previously affected by atherosclerosis and severely reducing blood flow.
Myocardial infarction The damaging or death of an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) resulting from decreases or stoppage of blood flow to a part of the heart, causing damage to the heart.
- Coronary Thrombosis: Blockage of blood flow due to the formation of a clot in one of the arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle. It is associated with narrowing of blood vessels subsequent to clotting.
- Coronary Occlusion: A partial or complete obstruction of a coronary artery that hinders blood flow to some part of the heart muscle. This condition may cause an attack.
To sum up, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is hindered or stopped. This usually takes place because of a plaque rupture in one of the coronary arteries causing the irreversible death of the heart muscle. Nonetheless, there are various causes of heart attack. Therefore, to know more about the causes of heart attack, go to the heart attack causes article.