There are two very good reasons why you should know how to survive a heart attack , also called a myocardial infarction (MI). First of all, it is very likely that you or someone you love will have a heart attack in your lifetime. And second, whether you survive this heart attack may depend on what you and your healthcare providers do about it in the first few hours.
A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage or severe decrease in blood flow to part of the heart. This is a life-threatening medical emergency, and the longer it goes without treatment, the more the heart can be damaged.
Research has shown that the survival rate for people hospitalized for heart attacks is about 90%. up to 97%. It depends on the type of heart attack, the arteries affected, and additional factors such as age and gender.
About heart attacks
Heart attack is the most serious form of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) . This is the term for a medical emergency related to the arteries of the heart.
Like all forms of ACS, a heart attack is usually caused by the rupture of an atherosclerotic plaque within a coronary artery (arteries that supply oxygen to the heart muscle). This plaque rupture causes a blood clot to form, leading to a blockage in the artery. The heart muscle, supplied by a blocked artery, then begins to die.
A heart attack is diagnosed when part of the heart muscle dies.
Types of heart attacks
Most heart attacks are caused by a blockage in a coronary artery, but in rare cases, they can be caused by a sudden spasm or rupture of an artery.
The two main types of heart attacks are:
- ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) is a complete blockage of a coronary artery. This is the most serious type of heart attack.
- Non-ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) occurs when an artery is partially blocked and severely reduces blood flow to the heart. STEMI is a bit more common than STEMI.
Other types of heart attacks that are less common than STEMI or STEMI are:
- A coronary artery spasm is a violent contraction or spasm of an artery. This narrows the artery and decreases blood flow to part of the heart muscle.
- Coronary artery dissection is a rare type of heart attack in which the wall of the coronary artery spontaneously ruptures.
The probability of survival depends on the arteries affected. Blockage of the left anterior descending artery (LAD), a branch of the left coronary artery, has the highest risk of death.
The LAD artery supplies most of the heart, and the LAD artery is sometimes called a "widow" because of the increased risk of complications and death.
Widow's heart attack is also associated with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke, but it is less common than right coronary artery (RCA) blockage.
One study found that the unadjusted STEMI mortality rate for LAD was 7.1%, compared to 5.4% for the other branch of the left coronary artery (left circumflex artery, LCx) and 4.8% % for the right coronary artery.
There may also be significant differences in results between men and women. Studies have shown that among people hospitalized with a first heart attack, women had higher death rates than men, both from STEMI (9.4% vs. 4.5%) and STEMI (4.7%). vs 2.9%). However, when additional factors were taken into account, the gap was not as pronounced for STEMI.
The study also found that women with a severe heart attack (STEMI) had a 20% higher risk of dying or developing heart failure within five years than men.
Consequences and dangers
To a large extent, the outcome of a heart attack depends on how much the heart muscle dies . This is largely determined by which coronary artery is blocked, where the blockage occurs in the artery, and how long it takes before the artery can reopen.
A blockage near the beginning of an artery will affect the heart muscle more than a blockage higher up the artery. A blockage that persists for five to six hours causes significantly more heart muscle death than a blockage that resolves quickly.
If the degree of heart damage is severe, congestive heart failure can occur at the same time as a heart attack, which is a dangerous combination. Even if the degree of damage is minimal to moderate, heart failure is more likely to occur later on due to underlying damage to the heart muscle.
A heart attack can also cause dangerous heart rhythm disturbances known as arrhythmias , including tachycardia (fast heartbeat) and fibrillation (irregular fast heartbeat). After a heart attack, scarring of the heart tissue can lead to permanent electrical instability and recurrent arrhythmias.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 805,000 Americans suffer heart attacks each year. Of these, 605,000 are the first heart attack.
Why the first hours are so important
For anyone suffering from a heart attack, immediate medical attention is essential. Both the short-term and long-term consequences of a heart attack are largely determined by the amount of heart muscle that dies. With quick and aggressive treatment, a blocked artery can usually be opened quickly, allowing most of the heart muscle to be retained.
If the treatment is carried out for three to four hours, much of the irreversible muscle damage can be avoided. But if treatment is delayed for more than five or six hours, the amount of heart muscle that can be preserved is greatly reduced. After about 12 hours, the damage is usually irreversible.
Cardiac arrest can occur during the first hours after a heart attack or during recovery. If cardiac arrest occurs in a hospital, it is very likely that it can be cured. Unfortunately, the risk of sudden cardiac arrest increases after a heart attack, especially during the first year of life.
To receive prompt and proper medical care, you must recognize the signs of a heart attack and seek medical attention the moment you think you have it.
Although chest pain, especially in the center or left side of the chest, is a classic symptom of a heart attack, other symptoms can occur in addition to (or instead of) chest discomfort.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in the arms (one or both), shoulders, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen
- Feeling weak, dizzy, or fainting.
- Breaking in a cold sweat
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual or explainable fatigue
Chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom in both men and women. It may feel like uncomfortable pressure, a squeeze, a feeling of fullness, or a pain that lasts for more than a few minutes, or it may go away and come back.
However, women are more likely than men to experience some other symptoms. The first symptoms in women may be shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back pain, or jaw pain.
Anyone with risk factors for coronary heart disease should pay attention to these symptoms. Still, there are times when symptoms can be vague or less pronounced and people don't act right away because the symptoms aren't as severe as they think.
Silent heart attacks
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five heart attacks is asymptomatic and virtually asymptomatic. Even if the underlying obstruction is less severe, the risk of death may be higher simply because treatment is delayed.
Silent heart attacks can cause mild symptoms such as:
- Unexplained tiredness
- Difficulty breathing
- Discomfort in the throat, neck, jaw, or arm.
- Chest pain that can be mistaken for heartburn
What to do if you learn of a heart attack
If you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Even if this turns out to be something else, it is better to act quickly than risk your life.
If you notice signs of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away. The earlier treatment begins, the more likely it is to minimize heart damage.
A person with symptoms should not drive. Always ask someone to drive you to the hospital if an ambulance is out of luck.
If the person loses consciousness, you can initiate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while waiting for emergency medical care (EMS). If you are in a public place, ask if there is an AED (automated external defibrillator) . An AED is a handheld device that can monitor a person's heart rate and deliver an electric shock if necessary to help a person with cardiac arrest.
What can you do now
There are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of heart attack and increase your chances of survival.
According to the CDC, 47% of Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.
Check your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly. If the numbers are high, you can lower them with diet and physical activity, or your doctor may recommend medications to help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Also, these lifestyle changes can help:
- Give up smoking.
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Limit your intake of sweets, sugary drinks, and red meat.
- Exercise every day.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
Frequently asked questions
How long does a heart attack last?
Symptoms of a heart attack can last from minutes to hours, and the extent of heart damage depends on how quickly treatment is received.
How to stop a heart attack?
You can't stop a heart attack if it happens. Medications and surgical procedures help restore blood flow to the heart.
Can Coughing Help You Survive A Heart Attack?
This is usually useless, according to the American Heart Association. In a hospital, a nurse or other healthcare professional may recommend that someone cough intermittently and violently in the first few seconds of a sudden heart rhythm problem. This is done to keep blood flowing to the brain for a few seconds. Outside the hospital, coughing is useless and 'cough CPR' is a myth.