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What happens during a heart attack is plaque builds up in your blood vessels and blocks oxygenated blood from reaching your heart. But not all heart attacks are the same and understanding what happens when one occurs can help keep you from becoming a victim.
According to the American Heart Association, someone has a heart attack roughly every 40 seconds in America. The estimated annual incidence of heart attacks in the United States is 720,000 new attacks and 335,000 recurrent attacks. About 14% of people who have a heart attack will die from it.
A heart attack is one of the deadliest health problems in the United States. Nearly 50% of the deaths occur within an hour of the onset of heart attack symptoms before arriving at the hospital. Some of these deaths can be prevented if the victims have a better understanding of the causes and effects of a heart attack.
The function of your heart is to pump blood to other parts of your body, and it needs oxygen to perform this task. There are blood vessels called coronary arteries that supply oxygen to your heart.
Plaque builds up when cholesterol, white blood cells, calcium and other substances accumulate on an artery wall. In time, the plaque could break off, causing a blood clot. If the clot is large enough, it can block blood flow through a coronary artery. Consequently, your heart will not have enough oxygen to keep pumping efficiently, and it will begin to lose its ability to function after about 20 minutes. This results in a heart attack.
A heart attack can cause damage to different parts of your heart muscle, depending on where the artery blockage occurs.
A severe heart attack can kill you in just a matter of minutes, but most heart attacks are not as deadly. Some heart attacks are not life-threatening, while others progress slowly. Nonetheless, you should always be prepared to respond to a heart attack promptly. When you experience symptoms of heart attack, make your way to the nearest hospital or call 911 immediately. You should not drive yourself to the hospital.
Some of the symptoms of a heart attack include pain or discomfort in your chest. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes — or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
You may also experience pain in your jaw, neck, back, stomach, shoulders or arms. Another typical symptom is shortness of breath, which can occur with or without pain or discomfort. You may also feel nauseated; lightheaded, and you may start sweating. If you need more information on how to deal with a heart attack, you can ask your doctor for advice, and he or she may recommend something like a chemical stress test to find out how healthy your heart is.
Or you can start by downloading our guide “Heart Disease Facts That Could Change Your Life.”
You’ll learn about ways to decrease your risk for heart attack and how you can start living a heart-healthy lifestyle today.