Did you know that almost 735,000 Americans experience a heart attack each year? Unfortunately, many of them don’t even recognize the symptoms or act fast enough to get life-saving help. To help make sure this doesn’t happen to you or someone you love, it is important that we all take time to learn how to identify potential signs and symptoms of a heart attack in order to quickly take action and save lives. In today’s blog post, we’ll break down the basics about what heart attacks are; how they can be prevented; and importantly—what warning signs and symptoms people suffering from a heart attack might experience
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when blood is blocked from getting to the heart. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart muscles is blocked or reduced, causing damage to the heart muscles. The blockage usually results from a buildup of cholesterol, fat, and other substances in the arteries. The heart muscles require a continuous supply of oxygen and nutrients from the blood to function correctly. A cardiac arrest can lead to permanent damage or even the death of the heart muscles if not treated promptly.
Heart attacks are most often a result of a specific type of heart disease called coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD also goes by other names including ischemic heart disease and atherosclerosis. With CAD, arteries that lead to the heart become narrowed or completely blocked by a plaque made of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances. However, other underlying conditions can cause a heart attack as well.
Heart attacks are very common, occurring every 40 seconds in the United States. Knowing the signs and seeking medical assistance as quickly as possible help minimize the effects. Medical intervention, lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can all be useful to both prevent and treat the conditions that cause heart attacks.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Unfortunately, symptoms of a heart attack can be so vague that people may not realize the warning signs. Some symptoms also resemble other less serious conditions, such as heartburn, and are dismissed. Being aware of the signs and symptoms can allow a person to get help as quickly as possible and improve their chances for survival.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain, especially in the center or left side of the chest — the pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp pain or feel like squeezing or crushing in the chest
- Pain in the upper body including the left shoulder or arm, neck and jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
Some people have what’s called a silent heart attack. This means that they don’t have any symptoms at all, or they have symptoms that are so mild they’re ignored. This is more common in older adults, people with diabetes, and women.
Many people wrongly assume that men are at a greater risk of experiencing cardiac arrest. As a result, women are more likely to ignore symptoms and delay getting treatment. What’s more, symptoms may differ somewhat in women. For example, men tend to have more severe chest pain while women may have milder symptoms such as excessive fatigue that can be confused with other conditions. One very common diagnosis for chest pain is costrochronditis. It mimics the chest pain a person can experience in having a heart attack, but is harmless.
Are Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest the Same?
The fundamental difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest is the underlying cause. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to a part of the heart is blocked, usually due to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. This causes damage to the heart muscle and can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. On the other hand, cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly. This is typically caused by an electrical problem within the heart itself, such as arrhythmia, and can lead to loss of consciousness and irreversible damage to the brain and other organs if not treated immediately.
Can Heart Attack Last for Days?
A heart attack can last for a few minutes to several days, depending on the severity and the individual’s health. However, if you experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or sweating, it’s imperative to seek immediate medical attention, regardless of how long the symptoms last. It’s also vital to remember that not all chest pain is a heart attack, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Leading a healthy lifestyle and managing heart attack risk factors can also help reduce the risk of a heart attack. Always speak to your healthcare provider about any concerns about your heart health.
Heart Attack Causes
One of the most common causes of heart attacks is blocked arteries. Arteries carry blood away from your heart to various parts of your body. However, when an artery becomes blocked due to plaque buildup, a blood clot can develop and block the flow of blood to your heart. This condition is called a heart attack. Factors that increase your risk of developing blocked arteries include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity.
Coronary Artery Disease
Another common cause of cardiac arrests is coronary artery disease. This condition occurs when your coronary arteries become damaged or diseased, leading to decreased blood flow to your heart. Coronary artery disease is often caused by a buildup of cholesterol and other substances in the arteries, leading to plaque formation. Over time, the plaque can rupture, leading to a blood clot and heart attack. Risk factors for coronary artery disease include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking.
Heart failure can also lead to heart attacks. This condition occurs when your heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Several factors can contribute to heart failure, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and damaged heart muscles. When your heart fails, it can’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients, leading to tissue damage and, in some cases, heart attacks.
Arrhythmias are a type of heart condition that leads to abnormal heart rhythms. These conditions occur when the electrical impulses that control your heartbeat are disrupted, leading to irregular heartbeats. Some types of arrhythmias can increase your risk of developing blood clots and, consequently, heart attacks. Risk factors for arrhythmias include age, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a family history of heart conditions.
Congenital Heart Defects
Some people are born with heart defects that can increase their risk of developing heart attacks. These defects can affect the structure of your heart or the functioning of its valves or chambers. Congenital heart defects can lead to reduced blood flow to the heart, increasing the risk of blood clots and heart attacks.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is another major contributor to heart attack causes. When blood pressure is too high, it damages the lining of the blood vessels and causes artery walls to thicken and harden. This, in turn, narrows the arteries, leading to the increased risk of heart attack. Therefore, it’s essential to keep your blood pressure in check by engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting salt intake.
Coronary Artery Spasm
Another less frequent, but significant cause of heart attack is coronary artery spasm. This uncommon condition occurs when the smooth muscles in the artery wall contract, suddenly narrowing the artery and reducing blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack. Cocaine and other illicit drugs commonly cause coronary artery spasms.
How Heart Attack is Diagnosed
Medical History and Physical Examination
A heart attack diagnosis often starts with a medical history and physical examination by a medical doctor. They will ask about your symptoms, health, family history, lifestyle, and any medications you’re taking. A doctor may also check your blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, and breathing rates to determine the severity of your condition. This evaluation can help identify potential risk factors that could have contributed to your heart attack.
A blood test is an effective way doctors can analyze whether enzymes that are markers of heart damage are present in the bloodstream. Elevated levels of these enzymes are a clear indication of heart tissue damage, indicating a heart attack has occurred. Specific tests such as the CK-MB, Troponin, and myoglobin tests can help confirm a heart attack diagnosis.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
An electrocardiogram, commonly known as an ECG or EKG, is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It can detect heart issues such as arrhythmia, damaged heart muscle, and heart attack. By examining the waves and patterns of the ECG, a skilled medical practitioner can determine whether damage is present in the heart. ECGs are quick, painless, and non-invasive, making them a critical part of heart attack diagnostics.
Chest X-rays are often performed for patients who show symptoms of heart attack to determine the severity of the condition. It helps to rule out any other potential causes of your symptoms and to detect heart failure or fluid in the lungs. A chest X-ray can also reveal lung issues or inflammation that may be related to your heart attack.
An angiogram is an invasive diagnostic test used to visualize a blockage in coronary artery circulation. It’s a necessary tool for examining the health of arteries to identify any blockages, including those causing the heart attack. During an angiogram, dye is injected into a blood vessel to highlight the artery and any blockages that may be present. While an angiogram is a more invasive diagnostic test, it provides a more comprehensive view of any blockages within the coronary arteries.
A stress test is also known as an exercise test, which measures how the heart responds to physical activity. This test involves physical exertion with monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, and electrocardiogram readings to check for any abnormalities or signs of heart disease. Sometimes, medication is given to mimic exercise; this type of test is known as pharmacologic stress testing.
Cardiac catheterization is an invasive diagnostic procedure that involves inserting a catheter into a large blood vessel in the groin or the arm and threading it up to the heart. Dye is then injected into the bloodstream to visualize any blockages in the coronary arteries. Cardiac catheterization is used primarily when the diagnosis of a heart attack is unclear.
How Heart Attack Can Be Prevented
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet can make a big difference in your heart health. Choose foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. Fill your plate with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Limit intake of red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and processed foods. A heart-healthy diet can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and reduce inflammation, all crucial factors that can contribute to heart disease.
Regular exercise can help improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. You can walk, swim, bike, or choose any activity that gets your heart pumping. Strength training exercises can also help build muscle and keep your bones strong. Exercise can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety levels, and improve circulation.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Maintain a healthy weight by following a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that adults should have a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. A healthy weight can help control high blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Mental health is crucial to overall heart health. Chronic stress can increase your risk of developing heart disease and other health problems. Find ways to manage stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Make time for activities that you enjoy, socialize with family and friends, and seek help if you need it. Try to create a work-life balance, take regular breaks, and prioritize self-care.
Avoid Smoking and Secondhand Smoke
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can damage the blood vessels and lead to heart disease and other health problems. If you smoke, seek help to quit. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke by staying away from smoking areas and asking people not to smoke in your home or car. Quitting smoking can help lower your blood pressure, improve circulation, and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Heart Attack Recovery
Most people don’t die after their first heart attack. In fact, 20 percent are “silent”, meaning a person didn’t even realize it was happening. Any time oxygen fails to reach the heart, however, damage to the organ can occur. The extent of the damage depends on the severity of the heart attack and how quickly someone gets medical assistance.
After a heart attack, scar tissue forms in the heart in an effort to heal the damage. This scar tissue can interfere with the organ’s ability to pump blood. Physical rehabilitation is often necessary following a heart attack and many people go on to resume their normal lives with lifestyle modifications.
Sometimes, however, a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, also known as sudden cardiac death. This is when the heart suddenly stops beating. Death occurs within a few minutes if treatment, such as CPR or defibrillation (shock), is not administered.
Heart Attack Treatments and Natural Remedies
Coronary artery disease may be a largely preventable condition. It’s believed that through lifestyle choices, people have quite a bit of control over the health of their heart. The best treatment for a heart attack therefore is never to have one in the first place.
Medication, lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can all be useful as part of the overall treatment strategy for maintaining a healthy heart both before and after a cardiac arrest.
Lots of medication options are available to address factors that cause coronary artery disease and heart attacks. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help:
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower high blood pressure
- Increase supply of blood to the heart
- Improve symptoms of heart failure
- Thin the blood to prevent clots
- Correct heart rhythm abnormalities
A minimally invasive surgical procedure involves placing stents (small tubes made of silicone, fabric or metal) in narrow or obstructed blood vessels. They help keep the blood vessels open so that oxygen-rich blood can flow more efficiently.
Bypass surgery might also be required to maintain proper blood flow throughout the body. This procedure involves removing clogged blood vessels and replacing them with healthier blood vessels from other parts of the body. Bypass surgery can be “open heart” or performed in a less invasive way using video monitors and smaller incisions.
Proper diet and exercise help keep all the systems of the body working their best, including the cardiovascular system. Lifestyle choices help you to maintain healthy weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also keeps inflammation in check.
Following these diet recommendations can help reduce the risk of developing heart diseases that cause heart attack:
- Eat at least 5 serving of fruits and vegetables per day
- Include good quality, preferably lean protein in your meals
- Eating whole grains and starchy vegetables, potatoes and legumes provide more fiber and nutrition than refined starches like white bread
- Limit total fat intake to 25-35 percent of calories per day. This should be a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats
- Try not to eat more than you need
- As often as possible, eat foods in their whole, natural form rather than processed and packaged
What constitutes a “healthy” diet differs from one person to the next and depends on the needs of the individual. While there’s no one diet that’s perfect for everyone, examples of heart-healthy diet plans include the Mediterranean diet and Paleo diet.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a program that helps heart attack patients recover and regain their strength. This includes exercise, education, and counseling to help patients better understand their condition and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. It is important for patients to attend cardiac rehabilitation to lower their risk of another heart attack. As little as 30 minutes of daily exercise can significantly improve cardiovascular conditions and overall health.
Supplements for Heart Attack Prevention
Supplements that come from natural, plant-derived sources have been used since ancient times to support heart health. Always check with your doctor before using supplements, especially if you already take medication.
Coenzyme Q10 is a compound that plays a crucial role in the production of energy in the body, specifically in the heart. It is also a powerful antioxidant that protects the cells from damage caused by free radicals. Studies have shown that coenzyme Q10 supplements can improve heart health by reducing inflammation, improving circulation, and decreasing blood pressure. A review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that coenzyme Q10 supplements may also help improve symptoms in patients with heart failure.
Pumpkin Seed Extract
Hibiscus tea is made from the petals of the hibiscus plant and has been shown to have several health benefits, including reducing high blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that drinking hibiscus tea daily reduced blood pressure in people with pre-hypertension or mild hypertension. Speak with your physician before beginning to use this herbal supplement to prevent heart attacks as it may conflict with any medications you are taking.
Hesperidin is a compound found in lemons, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. Studies show it supports blood and heart health and boosts immune function. As a dietary supplement, take 500 mg (1/4 tsp) of hesperidin powder one to two times daily with food and water, or as directed by a physician. However, talk to your doctor before taking this product if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not take if you have a bleeding disorder or a history of low blood pressure. Also, avoid for at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Tart Cherry Extract Powder
Tart cherry extract can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, two risk factors associated with heart attacks. As a dietary supplement, take tart cherry extract 2,500 mg once daily with food, or as directed by a physician.
Hawthorn Berry Extract Powder
Hawthorn berries contain potent antioxidants that strengthen blood vessel walls. They may also reduce risk factors of heart disease like high cholesterol. In studies, people who took hawthorn berries felt improvement in their symptoms associated with congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat, arrhythmia, low blood pressure, angina, and atherosclerosis. As a dietary supplement, take 1,200 mg of hawthorn berry extract powder one to two times daily, or as directed by a physician.
Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant naturally found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, reduces oxidative damage in cells. In addition to being a excellent antioxidant, studies suggest it can also lower blood pressure. As a dietary supplement, take 200 mg of pure lycopene powder once or twice daily, or as directed by physician.
Fish Oil Soft Gels
Research shows that taking omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil soft gels, can support heart health. They lower triglycerides and inflammation as well as act as an anticoagulant. Suggested serving size for fish oil is 2 capsules which could be taken 2-3 times per day.
Astragalus Extract Powder
Astragalus is an herb that when paired with conventional prescribed medications, can help improve heart function in people with heart diseases. Take 1300 mg of astragalus daily with meals, or as directed by a physician. Those with autoimmune diseases or who take immunosuppressants should speak with their doctor before using.
Aronia Berry Extract
Studies show that aronia berry extract keeps blood vessels healthy and may lower blood pressure. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg of aronia berry 1-2 times per day, or as directed by a physician.
Red Yeast Rice
Red yeast rice (RYR) is rice that’s been fermented by Monascus purpureus, a type of yeast. It contains a compound called monacolin K which lowers cholesterol levels and is actually used in many cholesterol-lowering drugs. As a dietary supplement, take 600mg of red yeast rice one or two times daily, or as directed by physician. Use milligram scale only. For best results, take with at least 200mg Coenzyme Q10.
The Bottom Line
Heart attacks are a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. However, by understanding the common causes of heart attacks and taking steps to reduce your risk, you can protect your heart health and enjoy a better quality of life. Some key steps you can take include eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and managing conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. By taking these steps, you can reduce your risk of heart attacks and enjoy better heart health overall.
Herbal supplements are a promising way to prevent heart attacks and improve heart health. However, it is essential to remember that bulk supplements should not replace prescribed medications, and you should always consult your doctor before taking any new supplements, as they can interact with other medications. Incorporating these supplements as part of a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and a balanced diet, can help reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall health.
Heart attacks can be scary, but with the right treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to recover and live a healthy life. From medications to surgical procedures to lifestyle changes, there are many ways heart attack treatments have advanced. If you or a loved one has suffered a heart attack, it is important to seek medical attention right away and follow the advice of your doctor. By understanding the options available, you can be better prepared if a cardiac arrest were to ever occur. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to heart attack treatments.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease