A heart attack occurs as a result of decreased blood flow to the heart, which can cause irreversible injury to heart tissue and death. Heart attacks most commonly happen due to coronary artery disease (CAD), an accumulation of plaque inside coronary blood vessels. When a plaque ruptures, a clot forms at the site and causes sudden obstruction to blood flow in that artery, which leads to a heart attack.
This obstruction is why time is essential when treating a heart attack. The faster your blood begins flowing to your heart again, the less damage your heart suffers, and the more likely a full recovery can occur.
Men and women often experience different symptoms when having a heart attack. Symptoms typical of a heart attack in men can include the following:
- Chest pressure or pain
- Discomfort or pain in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Profound sweating
- Fainting or lightheadedness
Women may experience the above heart attack symptoms, plus any of the following:
- Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
- Stomach or abdominal pain (between the breastbone and naval)
- Cold sweats
Learn the symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women and contact 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms.
- Cigarette smoking
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Overweight or obesity
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Family history
An additional risk factor for women:
- The combination of smoking and oral contraceptives, especially in women older than 35, increases the risk of heart disease or heart attack.