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What you need to know about heart attacks

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Heart attacks are a general term used to describe a lack of blood supply, hence lack of oxygen, to a certain area of the heart. Heart attacks can be mild to moderate to severe. They can also appear to be silent (not presenting with any of the cardinal symptoms of a heart attack) or symptomatic.

In medical terms, heart attacks are known as acute coronary syndromes. Coronary arteries are small but durable arteries that run from the aorta of the heart into different sections of the heart. For example, the right coronary artery supplies blood to the sinoatrial node (the heart’s natural pacemaker), atrioventricular node (the heart’s backup pacemaker) and a large portion of the right atrium (the part of the heart that receives deoxygenated blood from the body).

Acute coronary syndromes are a group of syndromes that involve a lack of oxygen or blood supply to the heart. This is known as myocardial ischaemia. It is important to note that myocardial ischaemia is reversible. It is occlusion of an artery in which the occlusion is less than 70%.

Therefore the prognosis of these conditions : stable angina, unstable angina and prizmental angina, are favourable. Myocardial infarction is the scary one. This occurs when more than 70% of the artery is occluded. Myocardial infarctions are a fancy term for full blown heart attacks, that cause irreversible damage. The prognosis of myocardial infarctions are not as favourable.

Why did I get a heart attack?

Heart attacks are typically caused by occlusion (blockage) of the supplying artery. As mentioned before, if we were to take the right coronary artery as an example : a heart attack would results from an occlusion of the right coronary artery, affecting the right atrium, sinoatrial node and atrioventricular node.

These occlusions of blockages are commonly caused by a condition called atherosclerosis. This condition is a narrowing and hardening of our arteries that is due to an accumulation of plaque. This plaque consists of fatty deposits that clog up our arteries. This is why fatty foods are such a danger to resulting in a heart attack. All that extra and excessive fats, cholesterol and sugar are all being lodged into the arteries.

How to recognise a heart attack?

There are a few symptoms to be aware of that may indicate that you or a friend or family member is having a heart attack :

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Sharp shooting pain at the arms or the jaw
  • Sweating
  • Light-headedness
  • Fatigue, Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

What to do during a heart attack?

Heart attacks can present progressively (starting a few days before) or abruptly (presenting suddenly and spontaneously). Whichever the case, it is important that you act quickly with someone who is experiencing a heart attack. Time is of the essence.

Firstly, call the local medical emergency services. Call the ambulance and inform them of the patient’s condition and your locations. If you are close enough to a clinic or a hospital, then drive the affected patient to the area.

Secondly, once you have already called the ambulance, talk to the patient. Ask him if he is allergic to aspirin or if he has been advised, by a doctor, to not take aspirin. If the patient answers no to either one or both of these questions, then give them one aspirin tablet (not parasol or tylenol).

The aspirin has anti-coagulative features (it prevents clotting and prevents a blockage). If aspirin is not available, then try to see if the patient a supply of nitroglycerin (do not get anyone’s nitroglycerin, only the patient if they have a perscription).

If they go have a supply, then inform them to take it as directed : place the pill under the tongue and do not swallow it. Spit the tablet out once the chest pain has ended. Nitroglycerin is a specific drug that prevents constriction of the artery.

If by the time you are waiting for the ambulance and the patient goes unconscious, then start CPR. If you are untrained and unsure of how to do CPR, then just do chest compressions. Try to maintain a rhythm of 100 beats per minute.

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Article is written by: 

Fatin Najwa binti Daud, is a medical student studying at IMU Malaysia. She is a freelance writer of this blog at Zaahara. Interests include music, art, sports and travel.

-Photos are taken from google images

© 2016 Zaahara Ventures Sdn. Bhd.

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