A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is suddenly interrupted, resulting in a reduction in the amount of oxygen the heart muscle is receiving. When the heart senses an unusually low level of oxygen, the muscle cells send out pain signals and trigger other symptoms like sweating and lightheadedness, as well as releasing special proteins into the bloodstream. The most common cause of heart attacks is arterial blockage, usually occurring when sticky, fatty substances called plaque build up inside the arteries, clinging to the artery walls and narrowing the diameter or the vessels so blood flow is restricted. Less commonly, blood flow can be interrupted when the vessels “spasm” and constrict, a condition called Prinzmetal angina.
Heart attacks can cause many different symptoms, including:
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and women and men can both experience different types of symptoms.
Several risk factors have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, including:
Having your heart health evaluated to determine your risk factors is the first step in preventing heart attacks. Routine blood pressure screenings and blood tests for cholesterol levels are also important for preventing heart attacks and heart disease in general. If blood pressure or cholesterol levels are elevated, medicine can be prescribed to help treat these issues. Other steps include losing excess weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet that's high in fiber and low in unhealthy fats, reducing stress and being more physically active.