August 2014

What is a Heart Attack?

What is a Heart Attack?

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, since we are looking at preventing and reversing heart attack and stroke it is appropriate that we actually present a series of diagrams which will show us what these terms really mean.

A heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction, implies the death of part of the heart's left ventricle due to a lack or marked deficiency in the heart's blood supply. In the United States, nearly 300,000 persons who die annually from heart attacks do so suddenly, prior to hospitalization. Their deaths are attributed to a suddenly ineffectual pumping action of the heart because of rhythm abnormalities (ventricular fibrillation or cardiac standstill).

The main cause for the death of the heart muscle is deficient supply of oxygenated blood from the coronary arteries. The main reason for this is atherosclerosis. In some cases, however, death occurs from coronary thrombosis, embolism, or spasm are less frequent causes.


How Does a Heart Attack Happen?

In Diagram 1 we see a normal heart. Blood enters from the body. As the blood has circulated throughout the body its live giving nutrients and oxygen have been used up. Blood now enters into the right side of the heart a chamber of the heart known as the Right Atrium with the next beat of the heart it is pumped into the Right Ventricle. From here the blood is sent out from the heart into the lungs where it picks up life giving oxygen. Oxygenated blood returns to the heart and enters into the Left Atrium where in the next heart beat it is pumped into the Left Ventricle. It is in the muscular walls of the left ventricle where heart attacks most commonly occur. When the heart is operating normally it will immediately pump the blood in the left ventricle out of the heart to the rest of the body. This process is repeated over and over 60 to 80 times a minute as long as we live.



Diagram 1.


Two of the most import blood vessels in the heart are the right and left Coronary arteries. They bring nutrients and oxygen to the muscles of the heart itself. In Diagram 2 we see blood coursing through a normal artery. As we see in Diagram 3 the years go by atherosclerosis build and finally in Diagram 4 and Diagram 5 we see significant build up to the point that blood can no longer flow freely through the artery.





Diagram 2.



Diagram 3.


Diagram 4.


As blood flow is reduced the heart muscle becomes starved for oxygen and nutrients if the circulation is cut off the muscle cells will begin to die and the heart can no longer function normally. This is what is we think of as a heart attack see Diagram 5.





Diagram 5.


What Are the Symptoms of A Heart Attack?

There are number of immediate symptoms and signs of a heart attack:

  • Mild persistent, intense, prolonged chest discomfort or pain.
  • Pain or discomfort radiating into the left arm, jaws or mid-upper back
  • Shortness of breathlessness
  • Irregular pulse or heart beat
  • Sudden onset of cold sweats for no discernible reason.
  • Unexplained Dizziness
  • Pallor


  • Immediate care is always critical to survival. Call 911 Immediately, if you suspect that you or someone else is having a heart attack.
  • Prompt Cardiovascular Resuscitation can save some victims from sudden death.
  • Hospital management in a coronary care unit, with physiological monitoring and the use of medications to control   pain and stabilize heart rhythm and blood pressure.


  • The best way to prevent heart attack is through diet and exercise.
  • It is extremely important to consider the potential of a heart attack in anyone who is at risk for heart disease. Once risk is established early treatment is important

    Recent developments in acute-care management include the use of thrombolytic drugs and coronary artery dilation with balloon catheters, angioplasty and cardiac bypass surgery.