Heart Attack Pathology (Photo Essay)

  • Medical Author:

    Dr. Fishbein received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Illinois. He completed a residency in anatomic and clinical pathology at Harbor General Hospital/UCLA Medical Center. He is board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD
    Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

    Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

    Dr. Schoenfield served as associate professor of medicine and consultant in gastroenterology on the faculty of the Mayo Clinic for seven years. He became a professor of medicine in residence at UCLA from 1972 to 1999 (now emeritus). He was the director of gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for 25 years, where he received the chief resident's teaching award, the president's award, and the pioneer of medicine award.

  • Medical Reviewer: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Heart Disease Slideshow

What happens to the heart muscle after a person survives a Heart Attack?

According to medical studies, 50% to 75% of people survive their first heart attack Others die during the heart attack because the decreased coronary blood flow causes a severe abnormal heart rhythm or extensive death of heart muscle. Figure 4 shows the heart of a patient who died 5 days after a heart attack. The photos show his myocardial infarction as it appears on the surface of the left ventricle and when the heart is sliced to view the muscle wall. About 90% of myocardial infarctions involve only the left ventricle (LV), which pumps oxygen-rich blood that comes from the lungs to the entire body. The other 10% also involve the right ventricle (RV), which pumps the blood to the lungs.

Figure 4: Myocardial Infarction Caused by Heart Attack; Views of Heart Surface and Slice Across Heart

Picture of Myocardial Infarction Caused by Heart Attack
Picture of Myocardial Infarction Caused by Heart Attack

If a person survives a heart attack, the heart muscle may return to normal or become a region of dead heart muscle (the myocardial infarction). The amount and health of the remaining heart muscle is the major determinant of the future quality of life and longevity for a patient after a heart attack. A heart attack can interrupt the normal electrical wiring of the heart, leading to abnormal heart rhythms. The heart attack can also weaken the pumping action of the heart causing shortness of breath due to heart failure. Each of these complications of a heart attack can occur at any time during the recovery period as a result of dead, dying, or scarring heart muscle.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/29/2015

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