A heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction) is a medical emergency, requiring immediate medical attention. A heart attack occurs when an artery supplying blood to the heart is blocked. Without blood flow, the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and the tissue loses oxygen and dies. The damage worsens the longer the artery stays blocked.
An angina attack is not a heart attack. In angina, the heart does not get enough oxygen for a short time. The pain or discomfort – in the chest, arms, shoulders, back, neck or jaw – often goes away with rest or nitroglycerin. Angina does not usually cause lasting damage to the heart.
A heart attack can cause sudden cardiac arrest. As a result of the interruption in blood flow to the heart muscle, the heart may go into an abnormal rhythm or stop beating completely. When the heart fails to beat, blood flow to the brain and other vital organs is disrupted. Without immediate CPR and emergency medical attention, cardiac arrest can be fatal.
Coronary artery disease is the major underlying cause of heart attacks.
Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries. A clot most often forms in a coronary artery that has become narrow because of the build-up of plaque along the artery walls. The plaque can crack and trigger formation of a blood clot. Other common causes of heart attack include:
Risk factors that may increase your chance of developing a heart attack, including:
Symptoms of a Heart Attack Can Include:
Heart attack symptoms in women may differ or be less noticeable than those in men. In addition to the symptoms above, women may also experience:
Tests for heart attack may include:
If you or someone you know experiences chest discomfort, particularly with one or more of the other symptoms, call 911 right away.
From the moment a blood clot forms and a patient experiences the first symptom of a heart attack, a race against time begins.
With each minute that passes, the heart muscle is progressively damaged and the patient’s condition worsens. While the damage cannot be reversed, it can be reduced through the quick restoration of blood flow.
Because every minute matters, specialists in cardiovascular care at Memorial Hermann review every aspect of the treatment process - from patient arrival (door) to the start of treatment (balloon). With this process, Memorial Hermann hospitals have a time-to-treatment far ahead of the national average.
The emphasis on quality improvement has led to numerous advances in the management of heart attack, including:
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have developed national guidelines calling for a door-to-balloon time of less than 90 minutes for hospitals that offer direct angioplasty.
One of the most effective treatments for a heart attack is angioplasty, a procedure during which a small balloon is inflated to open blocked arteries. The time from when a patient enters the emergency room until the angioplasty balloon is inserted is critical. The lower the "door-to-balloon" time, the better the patient's outcome.
Memorial Hermann's hospitals have accredited Chest Pain Centers, as designated by the Society of Chest Pain Centers.
Accredited Chest Pain Centers undergo a rigorous evaluation process by the SCPC based on their ability to assess, diagnose, and treat patients quickly and effectively, clinical outcome statistics and comparisons nationwide. Currently there are less than 400 accredited chest pain centers, only representing 10% of United States hospitals.
Working in partnership with EMS, emergency physicians, cardiologists and critical care nurses, a Chest Pain Center's goal is to shorten the time from a patient's initial cardiac symptoms to treatment.
Accredited Chest Pain Centers have been found to reduce the mortality rates of patients suffering from chest pain through a very specific protocol-driven and systematic approach which allows physicians to:
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