The most commonly publicized heart attack symptoms are a pain in the middle chest and left arm. However, in a majority of individuals, symptoms may be noticeable several days or weeks before this acute event. Some individuals will experience very little or no pain during a heart attack (silent heart attack).
Often, angina (occasional chest pain), fatigue, and/or shortness of breath can precede a heart attack (myocardial infarction) by a few days or weeks. These symptoms may also become increasingly frequent leading up to the heart attack.
A heart attack occurs when one or many blood vessels which supply blood and oxygen to the muscle of the heart become blocked or partially obstructed. Regions of the heart muscle which then receive inadequate oxygen supply for several minutes or more then die.
Commonly the main blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries) are blocked by blood clots. A previous narrowing of the arteries often becomes the site at which platelets stick and aggregate and a clot forms.
Heart attack symptoms:
- intermittent chest pain (in days/weeks leading up to heart attack event)
- fatigue (in days/weeks leading up to heart attack event)
- shortness of breath (in days/weeks leading up to heart attack event)
- pain in middle of chest (often accompanied by pain in left arm, jaw, and/or back)
- pain in the abdomen
- sudden heavy sweating
- pronounced heart beat
- abnormal heart rhythms
- loss of consciousness
Diagnosis is typically through an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood testing following the suspected event.
Treatment needs to be administered on an emergency basis as quickly as possible and is initially aimed at immediately limiting the damage occurring to the affected heart muscle region.
Treatment is typically with aspirin or an alternative to help reduce the size of the blood clot and increase blood flow in the affected coronary artery. Drugs which lessen the damage by slowing the heart rate are administered. Oxygen is provided to increase the saturation level of blood oxygen which may then reach the heart muscle.
Other drugs which help dissolve the blood clot are administered. Emergency surgery may be performed which will help clear the affected artery and avoid further damage.