You might not realize it, but there are many different types of heart attack, each with different symptoms and levels of severity. But while all heart attacks should be a cause for concern, some are far more serious than others.
A heart attack is a form of Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS). ACS causes a blockage in the major arteries that carry blood to the heart. When the blockage prevents the heart from being supplied with enough blood, it can cause a heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction.
When a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, it causes the most serious type of heart attack. Medically known as an ‘ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction’, it is often referred to by doctors as a ‘STEMI’ or a major heart attack.
- A Heart Attack Can Cause Irreparable DamageThe heart is different from other parts of the body, as the muscle cannot repair itself. Once damage has occurred, it can never grow back or regenerate. When Acute Coronary Syndrome is present, the oxygen rich blood supply is reduced, and the muscle quickly becomes damaged which leads to a weakened heart. But when a major heart attack occurs, a vessel has become completely blocked, and a large part of the heart stops receiving blood altogether. This causes significant damage to the heart muscle very quickly. As damage can occur so quickly, it is very important to recognize the symptoms of this type of heart attack so you can act immediately.
- Heart Attack SymptomsA serious heart attack, caused by a complete blockage of the artery, has the classic symptoms associated with a cardiac arrest. This includes a sudden pain in the chest that can feel like a large amount of pressure or tightness across the chest. People also experience pain in either the arm, jaw or back, and this can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety, nausea, breathlessness and lightheadedness.If you, or anyone around you, experiences any of these symptoms, call for help immediately
- Causes of Major Heart AttacksCoronary arteries usually become blocked by cholesterol. The cholesterol causes plaque to build up, which lead to a condition known as atherosclerosis, or ‘hardening of the arteries’. Blood clots can very quickly form around the plaque and lead to blockages. Being overweight, eating a diet high in cholesterol and smoking can all increase your chances of having a major heart attack. There are also certain genetic factors that can increase your chances, and a family history may make you more susceptible.
- Heart Attack TreatmentThe quicker that you seek treatment for a major heart attack, the higher your chances of recovery. As blood supply to the heart has been blocked, doctors will need to remove the blockage to restore blood flow and prevent damage to the heart muscle as soon as possible. This is usually done by inserting a catheter into your leg or groin and directing it to the blocked artery where a small balloon is inflated, to clear the blockage. A small metal tube, known as a stent, is then inserted which works to keep the artery open, and to allow blood to flow freely through it, restoring the oxygen supply. The insertion of a stent may be a long-term solution, or you may require additional surgery to prevent future heart attacks. A bypass is sometimes needed, which involves the removal of arteries from other parts of your body to replace blockages, or you may need to have a heart valve replaced if it has become blocked.
- Heart Attack RecoveryDepending on the type of surgery you have had to treat your heart attack, you may need to spend several days in hospital. Once home, you may need to take medication such as painkillers or blood thinners long-term, and you may be referred to a rehabilitation program to help your recovery and build up your heart’s strength again. How you recover though is dependent on how quickly you receive treatment and how your body copes with the heart attack. Lifestyle changes are crucial to reduce your risk of suffering further heart attacks, including eating a healthy, balanced diet, taking plenty of exercise and quitting smoking. Keeping a healthy weight and attending regular appointments with your cardiologist will be vital as you recover.
Remember, early treatment is crucial to surviving a major heart attack. As well as taking preventative steps to reduce cholesterol levels and live a healthier lifestyle, recognizing the warning signs could save your life.