Heart and Vascular Center

Heart Attack

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) is caused by a complete blockage of the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. This usually occurs because a small blood clot forms in one of the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. The blood clot usually forms where hardening of the arteries has developed in the blood vessel.

The pain of a heart attack usually lasts longer than 10 minutes and often occurs with other symptoms, such as sweating, shortness of breath or nausea. The pain of a heart attack normally will not go away with rest.

Many people mistake heart attack symptoms for other problems, such as indigestion, heartburn or a pulled muscle. It is important to recognize the signs of the early stages of a heart attack and seek emergency care. Early medical treatment is needed to prevent complications and death. Sometimes medications can be given to reduce the amount of heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack.

People with risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) are more likely to have chest pain caused by heart disease. Chest pain in a person without risk factors for heart disease must also be looked at closely to decide whether a heart problem is the cause of the pain.

Elderly people or people with diabetes may not have the usual symptoms of a heart attack. These people may have pain in areas not usually associated with a heart attack or they may not have any chest pain at all. Anyone with conditions and diseases that may increase their risk for a more serious problem needs to be evaluated by a health professional.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort or pain that is crushing, squeezing or feels like a heavy weight on the chest
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that spreads from the chest to the back, neck, jaw, or to one or both shoulders or arms
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat

Chest pain is a key warning sign of a heart attack. Evaluate this symptom carefully. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or other emergency services immediately.