The number one way to spot the warning sign of a heart attack

Heart attacks (known as acute myocardial infarction) are a leading cause of death.  The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease--blockage of the blood vessels that feed the heart muscle. When a coronary artery is blocked, the heart muscle does not die instantly.  But a delay in treating the coronary artery disease may increase the damage to the heart and reduce the chance for survival.

A heart attack causes permanent damage (infarction) to the heart muscle.  Once you have a heart attack, there is nothing that can be done to fix the damage to your heart muscle.  Thus, you must prevent a heart attack before it happens.

Fortunately, there are often warning signs that a heart attack is about to happen. The key to the prevention of a heart attack is knowing the warning signs and getting treatment ASAP.  It is critical to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and go to the hospital immediately. Time is critical.

What is the number one warning sign that a heart attack is about to occur?

Angina is chest pain that is caused by the lack of oxygenated blood to the heart.  Angina is often caused by a blockage or narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, known as coronary artery disease.  Angina causes little or no permanent damage to the heart, but it is a warning sign that you are at high risk for a heart attack.

Many types of chest discomfort are not related to angina, such as that caused by acid reflux (heartburn) and lung infection or inflammation.  However, angina is a sign that someone is at high risk for heart attack, cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac arrest.

The key to the prevention of a heart attack is understanding the difference between "unstable angina" and "stable angina".  Stable angina is chest pain that occurs while exercising and goes away with rest.  Unstable angina is chest pain that is not relieved by rest or actually occurs at rest.

Stable angina is chest pain that has a predictable pattern.  If, for example, you have chest pain while jogging at night and you can predict when you will have the pain, this is stable angina.  Stable angina should be evaluated by your doctor, but it poses much less of a risk to you than unstable angina.

How you can detect unstable angina--the top sign of an imminent heart attack

People with unstable angina have unexpected chest pain that usually occurs while at rest.  The most common cause of unstable angina is reduced blood flow to the heart muscle caused by coronary arteries narrowed by atherosclerosis.  Unstable angina is an acute coronary syndrome and should be treated as an emergency.

If you have chest pain while at rest, you have a serious warning sign of an imminent heart attack known as unstable angina.  With unstable angina, your heart is not getting enough oxygen and blood even when there are no physical demands upon your heart.  Unstable angina is an emergency medical condition and you should go to the emergency room if you have such symptoms.

If you or a loved one has even a single episode of chest pain while at rest, you should go immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital or better yet, call an ambulance to take you there.  You may be about to have a heart attack.

What can be done to prevent a heart attack at the hospital

Angina can be treated with drugs that affect the heart muscle's blood supply or the heart's demand for oxygen.  Drugs that affect blood supply are known as coronary vasodilators.  They cause blood vessels to relax.  When this happens, the opening inside the blood vessels (the lumen) gets bigger and blood flow then improves.

At the hospital, you can be given medications known a beta blockers that slow the heart rate and the heart's output of blood.  In most cases, beta blockers and vasodilators lower blood pressure and significantly reduce the chance of a heart attack.

If you get to the emergency room fast enough, drugs can be given to dissolve the clots blocking the blood flow to the heart--this is known as thrombolysis.  It's done with drugs to dissolve clots, balloon angioplasty or surgery.  The sooner these techniques occur, the more likely you will benefit.

If it is suspected that you have coronary artery disease a doctor must find the blocked part of the coronary artery.  This is done with a procedure called cardiac catheterization.

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