A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, is a medical condition that causes the heart to become permanently damaged. Here, “myo” means muscle, “cardial” means heart, and “infarction” means tissue-death caused by the lack of blood supply.

Your heart muscle requires a steady and controlled amount of blood supplied to it at all times. This blood supply is what allows the heart to function as intended. Now, the blood that flows through the heart is supplied by the coronary arteries. This is why the primary risk factor for heart attack is coronary artery disease.

Coronary artery disease occurs when the coronary arteries become blocked or narrowed due to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the closing or hardening of the arteries and it occurs due to the accumulation of cholesterol and fatty deposits called plaque. When the plaque and cholesterol accumulate on the inner walls of the arteries, it results in restricted blood flow.

When the blood flow becomes restricted, the heart ends up being starved of oxygen, which, in turn, deprives it of the nutrients needed to aid its proper functionality. This leads to chest pain or angina. When a coronary artery or group of coronary arteries become completely blocked, you have a heart attack.

What Happens During a Heart Attack?

Due to various lifestyle factors such as unhealthy eating, limited or no physical movement, and even genetics, plaque can accumulate in the coronary arteries over a period of time. When this accumulation leads to a complete blockage, it obviously results in obstructed blood flow.

Now, one may not notice the restricted blood flow due to the fact that there is more than one coronary artery in the human body. The other coronary arteries will usually take over and continue to supply the heart with the necessary amount of blood.

Plaque is composed of a solid fibrous cap on the outside, while the inside is basically made up of soft, fatty contents. When the plaque on the walls of the coronary artery get ruptured, the fatty material inside becomes exposed. This triggers the blood platelets, which rush over to the ruptured plaque to stop the fatty contents from leaking out, thereby, creating a blood clot.

This blood clot is what primarily ends up restricting blood flow, starving the heart of oxygen-rich blood. When this happens, the nervous system immediately alerts your brain about the situation by sending a signal. This is when the physical symptoms of a heart attack start to show.

You will experience profuse sweating and tachycardia (increased heart rate). Other than that, you may also experience nausea and weakness.

When the nervous system starts communicating signals to the spinal cord, you start to notice aches in the other areas of your body. This will typically begin with an intense pain in the chest, which slowly navigates to your neck, your jaw, your ears, your shoulder blades and even your abdomen. The pain, which, according to patients, feels like a clamp on the chest, can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

If immediate and proper treatment is not provided, a cardiac arrest may occur, causing the heart tissues to die. When the heart stops beating, oxygen rich blood won’t flow to the brain and other organs, leading to a possible death.

However, with immediate treatment, the heart can be healed. Even so, the damaged tissue cannot be fully repaired, which causes one’s blood flow to slow down permanently. This is why heart attack survivors have to be extremely careful in terms of overall health.

To know more about heart attack or myocardial infarction, talk to your doctor.

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Taking preventative precautions toward your heart health can help you avoid potential complications and prevent recurring heart problems. Contact the Houston Cardiovascular Institute to learn more about steps you can take to improve your heart health and a detailed explanation of potential complications you may be facing.