Heart Attack
(Myocardial Infarction)

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Heart attack facts

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction or MI) is the damage and death of heart muscle from the sudden blockage of a coronary artery by a blood clot. Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with blood and oxygen. Blockage of a coronary artery deprives the heart muscle of blood and oxygen, causing injury to the heart muscle. Injury to the heart muscle causes chest pain and chest pressure sensation. If blood flow is not restored to the heart muscle within 20 to 40 minutes, irreversible death of the heart muscle will begin to occur. Muscle continues to die for six to eight hours at which time the heart attack usually is "complete." The dead heart muscle is eventually replaced by scar tissue.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/29/2015

Heart Disease Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Heart Disease

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Heart attack - Symptoms Question: The symptoms of heart attack can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?
Heart Attack - Treatments Question: What was the treatment for your heart attack?
Heart Attack - Diagnosis Question: Please describe the events that led to a diagnosis of a heart attack. What tests and exams did you have?

Heart Attack Symptoms and Signs in Women

The classic symptoms of heart attack include a feeling of extreme pressure on the chest and chest pain, including a squeezing or full sensation. This can be accompanied by pain in one or both arms, jaw, back, stomach, or neck. Other symptoms of heart attack include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, and a feeling of breaking out in a cold sweat. Although chest pain and pressure are the characteristic symptoms, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience heart attack that does not occur in this typical fashion. Instead, some women with heart attacks may experience more of the other symptoms, like:

  • lightheadedness,
  • nausea,
  • extreme fatigue,
  • fainting,
  • dizziness, or
  • pressure in the upper back.

Because of the absence of typical symptoms associated with heart attacks in men, many women who have heart attacks think the symptoms are due to another condition, like the flu or gastroesophageal reflux.

Picture of the heart