“Heart attack” is often misused as a general term for a sudden problem with the heart.
However, there are important distinctions, between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. Knowing the differences can be a matter of life and death. Generally, a heart attack is a circulation problem and cardiac arrest is an electrical problem.
What is a heart attack?
Coronary arteries are a network of blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen. If an artery becomes obstructed (atherosclerosis) or goes into spasm, the supply of blood is constricted and the heart muscle (often uncomfortably) contracts.
The experience of a heart attack is actually the end result of the deprivation of oxygen as parts of the heart begin to die; it can take hours to weeks to reach the breaking point. The heart doesn’t stop beating during a heart attack but can suffer significant damage, depending on the length of time it is short of oxygen. (1)
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack may come and go over the critical period before the episode; they include:
- pain, pressure, and/or tightness in the chest and/or abdomen
- pain that radiates to the back, jaw, neck, or arm
- trouble breathing
- loss of consciousness
- sweating, clammy skin
- heart palpitations
- general malaise or fatigue
In addition to the common symptoms above, women may sometimes experience heart attack symptoms that are atypical to those of men. These include:
- gastric pain
Thirty-three percent of heart attacks are not accompanied by chest pain. Because it’s a plumbing problem, heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person and episode to episode. (2)
Risk Factors And Causes for Heart Attack
A heart attack doesn’t just happen out of the blue; it’s the result of a convergence of diet and lifestyle choices with a bit of genetics thrown in. Risk of heart attack increases with age and men are more likely to suffer an attack than women. The most common causes/risk factors of heart attack:
- chronically high cholesterol
- chronic stress
- poor diet (inadequate vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthful fats)
- sedentary lifestyle
- excessive alcohol consumption
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- previous heart attack