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Heart Attack


The heart pumps blood and oxygen throughout the body, but it also depends on a supply of blood and oxygen to do its work. A heart attack happens when one of the arteries that brings blood to the heart muscle is blocked. A portion of the heart muscle is damaged or dies due to inadequate blood flow.

Heart Attack: What to Do

  1. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Fast medical care may keep the heart from stopping and help minimize damage to the heart muscle.
  2. Keep the victim calm. Reassure the victim to keep him/her calm, so the heart uses less oxygen. Loosen any clothing that may restrict breathing, such as a tie, collar or belt. Help the victim get into a relaxed sitting position, with the legs up and bent at the knees, to ease strain on the heart.
  3. Give the victim either a baby aspirin or an adult aspirin to chew. Aspirin is a mild anticoagulant. Heart attack is caused by a clot in the coronary arteries. Aspirin that is chewed will be immediately absorbed into the blood and can go to work dissolving the clot.
  4. Monitor the victim. Perform CPR if necessary.

What are the Signs of a Heart Attack?

The most common warning signals of a heart attack are:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, tightness, heaviness or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath

Less common warning signs of heart attack include:

  • Stomach or abdominal pain; indigestion-like discomfort in the chest, especially with activity
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
  • Palpitations, cold sweat or paleness

In women, heart attack symptoms may be different and tougher to identify. They are more likely to include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Unusual fatigue

Many other conditions can cause chest pain, such as indigestion, panic attack or chest-wall or muscle pain from exercise. It is important to know that any of these symptoms can also be present with a heart attack. Do not assume that you are just having indigestion or a panic attack. Get medical help right away.

Risk Factors for Heart Attack

Your chances of heart attack increase if one or more of the following apply to you:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight or obese
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar if you have diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Excess stress

At Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento, we offer a number of preventative health programs and tools for our patients. Find out more about how we can help you Stay Heart Healthy.

Treatment for Heart Attack at Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute

Anyone who has signs of a heart attack should call 9-1-1 immediately. Someone who passes out before reaching the emergency room should receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The sooner you receive medical attention, the sooner blood flow can be restored to the heart muscle and decrease disability after a heart attack. Your doctor may choose to treat you with any of the following:

  • Thrombolytic Therapy, which involves injecting a clot-dissolving agent to dissolve a clot in a coronary artery and restore blood flow.
  • Coronary Angioplasty or stenting, is the first treatment of choice for a type of heart attack known as ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), which occurs when one of the coronary arteries is completely blocked.
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery may improve the blood supply to the heart muscle when several coronary arteries have significant blockages that hinder blood flow.

Preventing a Second Heart Attack

Most Americans survive a first heart attack but are at increased risk for another one. By taking action, you can significantly reduce your chances for a second heart attack:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Control your cholesterol
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Assess your mental health and reduce your stress
  • Take your medications as directed

We offer a number of programs to help you reduce your risk: