Acute myocardial infarction (AMI), more commonly known as a heart attack, results from a blockage of blood flow to some part of the heart. When the starved part of the heart does not get oxygen, the heart cells die. Usually this is caused by heart disease (coronary artery disease) or blockage of blood vessels leading into the heart by plaques made up of cholesterol and blood cells.
Another cause can be a blood clot or an aneurysm. One should not confuse heart attack with cardiac arrest or arrhythmia which are often temporary. This disease is a leading cause of death in the world. Heart attack is the leading cause of death in women.
Symptoms and effects of heart attack
The symptoms of AMI often come upon the patient slowly over a period of many minutes. In fact, more than 50% of all heart attack victims had warning signs before the major attack. Very rarely does a heart attack occur suddenly. A full quarter of all heart attacks occur silently without symptoms.
Interestingly, the symptoms of heart attack different for men and women. The typical chest pain which can radiate out to the left arm, tightness of the chest and difficulty breathing that we all hear about from numerous media sources are typical male symptoms. While women can have these symptoms, they more often do not experience chest pain.
Women will have tightness in the chest as opposed to pain and will very often have shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, back pain and pressure in the lower area of the chest. These symptoms for women are so ambiguous that they are often mistaken for a stomach or gastro-intestinal problem such as acid reflux, gas or even anxiety.
Causes of and risk factors for heart attack
- One of the greatest triggers of heart attacks is either physical or psychological stress, both of which increase the pressure in the arteries leading into the heart muscle.
- Severe infections, especially those that are bacterial, can also trigger a heart attack. Inflammation plays a large role in these types of infection-caused AMIs.
- The foundational cause of AMI is atherosclerosis or a thickening of the arterial wall such that it occludes blood flow to the heart.
- Higher incidence of AMI is seen among diabetics, people with high blood pressure, women in perimenopause, smokers, people exposed to air pollution even for a short time, the obese, alcoholics, those who are highly stressed, people who do not exercise, people with a family history of AMI, women who use some forms of oral contraception, and people with congenital diseases that cause large accumulations of homocysteine.
Treatment of heart attack
The most important goal of initial treatment is to restore the oxygen supply to as much of the heart muscle as possible and save as much of the tissue as possible. The first line of defense is to take 325 mg of aspirin immediately if a patient recognizes early AMI. Oxygen is also administered as soon as possible along with nitrates. ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and blood thinners are typically prescribed to AMI patients. For those with severe blockage, stents, angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery is performed. With a change in lifestyle and attention to medication, life expectancy of patients with AMI has been greatly increased.
Heart attack survival better for obese patients
Patients who are obese have a better chance of survival after a heart attack than those who are slim. This was the surprising finding of a recent study carried out in people who had suffered a heart attack. Obesity is a risk factor for developing heart disease in the first place so the results were quite surprising. Several researchers have found that the number of normal weight patients who died after 1 year was at least double that of those who were obese and they are struggling to figure out why. They’re working with several theories:
- the hearts of obese patient have compensated for the extra strain put on them by becoming stronger
- where the fat is deposited in the body may determine how well the heart has adjusted to the extra strain
- obese people can increase their chances of survival by losing weight, an option which isn’t available for thin patients
This may sound like the ideal excuse to be overweight but it isn’t. Obese people are more likely to develop heart disease in the first place. They are also more likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Losing weight through lifestyle changes is definitely a good idea.