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Emergency Care for Heart Attack


A heart attack (also known as myocardial infarction) occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. It is a life-threatening condition and can result in permanent damage to the heart muscle. 

If you are concerned about your risk for heart attack in the Bay Area, Find a Doctor at Dignity Health to help you create a personalized prevention plan.

Heart Attack Causes

When blood flow is blocked to the heart, your heart does not get enough oxygen. Without oxygen and other nutrients, heart muscle cells start to die, leading to a heart attack. 

Causes of blocked or reduced blood flow to the heart include:

  • Plaque buildup and blood clots located in the coronary arteries, the most common cause of a heart attack
  • Narrowing of the coronary artery due to spasm which slows or blocks blood flow
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a tear in the coronary artery that happens suddenly and without warning

Heart Attack Symptoms

Sometimes, heart attack symptoms come on suddenly. However, they may come on gradually over the course of a day, several days, or even weeks. 

Seek immediate medical care or call 9-1-1 if you or someone you know experiences:

  • Feelings of squeezing, pain, fullness, burning, or pressure in the chest, which may move to the back, shoulders, arms, belly, or jaw
  • Cold sweats
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Women often experience subtle symptoms when having a heart attack such as fatigue and nausea. 

Diagnosing Heart Attack

Healthcare providers use several tests to diagnose a heart attack and assess heart damage:

  • Blood tests detect proteins in the blood caused by damaged heart muscle. 
  • Chest X-ray can reveal signs of heart damage or disease, including heart enlargement or extra heart fluid.
  • Coronary angiography uses can dye injections and X-rays to find artery blockages. 
  • Echocardiogram is an ultrasound that shows heart function and structure.
  • EKG (electrocardiogram) shows your heart’s electrical activity, heart rate, and rhythm. 

Heart Attack Treatment

At Dignity Health, our team of experts focus on treating heart attack as quickly as possible. Early heart attack treatment can not only save your life, but also preserve heart function and prevent long-term disability.

Heart attack treatments we offer include:

  • Coronary angioplasty to widen blocked blood vessels by inserting a catheter to restore blood flow
  • Coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG), also called heart bypass surgery, to replace a blocked part of the coronary artery with a healthy artery from another part of the body 
  • Medicines to lower blood pressure and dissolve blood clots

At Dignity Health, we are dedicated to treating you and your loved ones with compassion and humankindness. 

Find trusted emergency care at Dignity Health hospitals for heart attack in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.