What is a Heart Attack?

What is a Heart Attack?


Hello, in this HealthSketch we’re going
to talk about Heart Attacks and their main cause, Heart Disease, which is also called ‘coronary’ or ‘ischaemic’ heart disease Heart disease is the leading cause of death
worldwide, causing around 1 in every 5 deaths. It affects both men and women, and becomes
more common with age, though it can occur at younger ages too, particularly in people
who lead unhealthy lifestyles. First, let’s look at how the heart works. The heart’s job is to pump blood around
the body, providing cells with the oxygen they need to survive. The constant pumping action is produced by
heart muscle in the wall of the heart. This heart muscle itself requires blood, and
so the heart is surrounded by blood vessels, called the coronary arteries, which provide
this blood supply. Heart disease happens when fatty material
builds up in these blood vessels over many years, reducing the blood flow and its supply
of oxygen to the heart muscle. This results in pain or discomfort around
the chest or upper body, called ‘angina’. It is often triggered by physical activity
or stress, but can also occur at rest. Angina is an important warning sign of heart
disease, so you should see a doctor if you get it. Heart attacks happen when this fatty material
ruptures and clots, blocking the blood supply completely , and leading to damage to the heart muscle. This damage can also lead to other heart problems
such as heart failure (when the heart can’t pump as well), heart rhythm problems, and
cardiac arrest (when the heart stops pumping). That’s why it’s important to get treated
quickly. Heart attacks happen suddenly, even in people
who might never have had angina before. The symptoms vary in different people, but
might include: pain or discomfort in the chest or upper body, and feeling sick, sweaty, lightheaded,
and breathless. It is also possible to have silent heart attacks,
with fewer symptoms, particularly in elderly people and those with diabetes. If you think you might be having a heart attack,
call an ambulance immediately as emergency treatment may be needed to restore blood flow
and limit damage to the heart. So how is heart disease diagnosed? If it is suspected, a doctor will ask more
about your history of symptoms, and assess your risk factors for heart disease, including
your family history. After this, a range of tests might be used
to confirm the diagnosis, including blood tests, an ECG or EKG (which traces the electrical
pattern of the heartbeat), exercise stress tests, and an Echocardiogram (which is an
ultrasound scan of the heart). Various imaging tests can be used, such as
CT or MRI scans, or radionuclide tests. Finally, a procedure called an ‘angiogram’
is done, where a contrast dye is inserted into the blood during x-ray imaging. This is used to find out precisely which blood
vessels around the heart are affected and what to do about them. Heart disease is treated through a combination
of lifestyle changes, medications, and surgical procedures. Lifestyle changes include stopping smoking,
becoming more active, eating healthily, reducing alcohol intake, reducing weight, and controlling
blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. A wide range of medications are used both
to treat the heart disease itself and address risk factors. These include medications which lower blood
pressure, lower cholesterol, and make the blood thinner. Nitrates, which come in various forms, widen
and relax the coronary vessels to provide immediate relief of chest pain symptoms. If the vessel blockage is severe, two main
types of procedure are used: angioplasty, and bypass surgery. • Angioplasty can either be a planned procedure
or an emergency procedure during a heart attack. Here, a guide wire is passed into the blood
vessels to the site of the blockage, and a small balloon is inflated to expand the vessel. A wire mesh, called a stent, can be left at
the site to hold it open. • In bypass surgery, a different blood vessel
from the body (usually either from the leg or the chest wall) is grafted onto the heart
beyond the point of the blockage. By doing this, blood flow is diverted around
the diseased section and can reach the heart muscle beyond it. Heart disease is a serious condition, but
it is also both preventable and treatable. Doctors, nurses and support groups are available
to provide advice and support. By making lifestyle changes, controlling risk
factors, and taking medication as prescribed, the condition can be managed, reducing the
risk of future heart attacks. Because heart disease is so common, these
lifestyle changes should be adopted by everyone in order to lead longer and healthier lives. We hope this HealthSketch has been useful to you and those around you

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