- Light-headedness (sudden weakness, which may cause you to faint)
- Cold sweat (sudden sweating without any exertion and feeling cold to touch)
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, or upper abdomen
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms and shoulders
- Shortness of breath
What causes a sudden heart attack?
A heart attack is caused by a blockage in or spasm of your coronary artery, which is the artery that supplies blood to your heart.
- Blockage: The artery may be partially or completely blocked by blood clots and fat that get deposited on the walls of the artery. The blockage reduces blood supply to your heart and causes an oxygen shortage.
- Spasm: A spasm of your coronary artery stops blood flow to part of the heart muscle. The spasm is often caused by using tobacco and recreational drugs such as cocaine.
COVID-19 can also damage your heart and result in a heart attack.
What increases your risk of a heart attack?
Factors that increase your risk of a heart attack include:
- Age (men who are 45 or older and women who are 55 or older)
- Smoking tobacco (firsthand and secondhand smoke)
- High blood pressure (causes damage to the arteries)
- High blood cholesterol (especially high low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) or triglyceride levels
- Coronary artery disease
- Obesity (especially central obesity)
- Metabolic syndrome (characterized by obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar)
- Autoimmune condition (such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus)
- Lack of physical activity
- High stress levels
- Family history of heart attacks
How is a heart attack treated?
If you notice symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Emergency medical help is crucial, as prompt treatment greatly improves your chances of survival and minimizes the damage to your heart and other organs.
If you see someone having a heart attack, you can start performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). CPR instructions can be found on websites of organizations such as the American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Red Cross. Additionally, you can give the person a baby aspirin or nitroglycerin tablet.
Once you reach the emergency room, hospital staff may perform CPR. They may also administer an electrical shock (defibrillation) to get the heart pumping again. Clot buster drugs (such as streptokinase) may be administered intravenously.
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What should you do to recover after a heart attack?
- Restrict physical activity: Your doctor may want you to rest for several days after a heart attack. They may ask you to limit work, avoid long-distance travel, or avoid sexual activity for a period of time.
- Take medications as prescribed: Take your medications as prescribed, per the timing and dosages recommended by your doctor.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices: Eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, quit smoking and take measures to manage your stress levels.
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