Myocardial Infarction

Myocardial Infarction: Understanding Heart Attacks


Myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, is a life-threatening medical condition that occurs when blood flow decreases or stops to a part of the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle. In this article, we will explore what a heart attack is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

What is a Myocardial Infarction?

A myocardial infarction occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart muscle. This leads to damage and possible death of heart muscle cells deprived of oxygen. The medical term for this is ischemia, meaning “lack of blood supply.” Without oxygen-rich blood, the heart muscle begins to die. There are two main types of myocardial infarctions:

– ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI): This type of heart attack occurs when one of the main arteries of the heart gets completely blocked by a blood clot. This leads to extensive damage to the heart muscle.

– Non ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI): In this type, the coronary artery is only partially blocked by a clot or buildup of fatty deposits called plaque. The blood supply is restricted but not completely blocked. The damage to the heart muscle is less extensive than in STEMI.

Causes of Myocardial Infarction

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease, a condition where the coronary arteries narrow and harden due to buildup of fatty deposits called plaque. This plaque buildup restricts blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart. Some key factors that increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease leading to heart attack include:

– Smoking: It damages the inner lining of arteries and raises cholesterol levels, increasing plaque buildup.

– High blood pressure: Over time, high blood pressure puts extra strain on artery walls and accelerates plaque buildup.

– High cholesterol levels: High LDL or “bad” cholesterol promotes fatty streaks and plaque inside arteries.

– Diabetes: It increases the risk of heart disease through multiple mechanisms like raised blood sugar and increased inflammation.

– Obesity: Excess belly fat raises the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance linked to heart disease.

– Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle fails to keep the cardiovascular system strong and arteries flexible.

– Family history and genetics: Risk is higher if a parent, especially the father, had a heart attack before age 55.

– Stress: Chronic stress puts the entire body under prolonged physical strain and raises inflammation levels.

– Older age: Risk steadily increases with each decade after 45 years of age.

Symptoms of a Myocardial Infarction

The symptoms of a heart attack can include:

– Chest pain or discomfort that may feel like pressure, squeezing or fullness in the center of the chest lasting for more than a few minutes.

– Pain radiating to the back, neck, jaw, shoulders or arms.

– Shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or lightheadedness.

– Chest pain may also manifest as indigestion, heartburn or a burning sensation.

– Women, seniors and diabetics may experience fatigue, indigestion, back or jaw pain without any obvious chest symptoms.

– Symptoms vary in each person and may not always indicate a full-blown heart attack. But it’s best to get them checked by a doctor promptly.

Diagnosis of Myocardial Infarction

The doctor will check the medical history, conduct a clinical examination and order tests to determine if a heart attack has occurred. Key diagnostic tests include:

– Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Checks for abnormal heart rhythms and damaged heart muscle.

– Blood tests: Help detect elevated levels of cardiac troponin and creatine kinase levels released when heart cells die during a heart attack.

– Stress test: Assesses heart function by monitoring the heart rate, blood pressure and ECG during exercise.

– Echocardiogram: Uses sound waves to create images of the heart chambers and detects any loss in pumping function.

– Angiogram: A dye is injected into coronary arteries to see any blockages limiting blood flow. This helps plan treatment.

Treatment Options for Heart Attack

The main goals during treatment are to restore blood flow, limit damage, relieve symptoms and prevent future attacks. Treatment may involve:

– Medications to dissolve blood clots like clot-busting drugs (fibrinolytics).

– Angioplasty to mechanically widen and prop open narrowed arteries with a balloon and stent placement.

– Coronary artery bypass grafting to bypass severely blocked vessels using a vascular graft.

– Medicines like aspirin, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, antiplatelets and statins that aid recovery and prevent future heart problems.

– Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, following a heart-healthy diet, stress management and regular exercise.

– Implanting devices like pacemakers or defibrillators if needed to maintain normal heart rhythms.

– Monitoring cardiac function and managing other risk factors long-term to prevent subsequent attacks.

Myocardial infarction is a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment. While risk factors like family history cannot be changed, making healthier lifestyle choices and managing existing conditions can significantly lower chances of a heart attack. Maintaining cardiovascular health should be a lifelong priority for overall well-being and quality of life. With proper treatment and care, most heart attack patients can successfully manage their condition over the long term.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it