Understanding a heart attack


Hello everyone, I am Dr. Keyur Parikh, a leading cardiologist at Marengo CIMS Hospital in Ahmedabad. Today, I want to talk to you about a critical heart condition that affects many people worldwide, including in India – a heart attack.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when there is a sudden blockage in the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscles. This blockage is usually caused by a buildup of fatty deposits, cholesterol, and other substances, forming a plaque within the arteries.

**1. Plaque Formation: It all starts with the gradual formation of plaque in the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscles. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances that build up over time on the inner walls of the arteries. This process is known as atherosclerosis.

**2. Narrowing of Arteries: As the plaque continues to build up, the arteries become narrow, restricting the flow of blood to the heart. This narrowing reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood that reaches the heart muscles, especially during physical activity or moments of stress when the heart needs more oxygen.

**3. Rupture or Formation of Blood Clot: In some cases, the plaque may rupture, causing a tear in the artery’s lining. In response to this rupture, the body’s natural healing process triggers the formation of a blood clot at the site. This blood clot can grow and block the already narrowed artery, further limiting blood flow to the heart.

**4. Heart Muscle Damage: The lack of sufficient blood and oxygen supply to the heart muscles can lead to their damage or death. This damage is referred to as a heart attack or myocardial infarction.

A heart attack situation arises when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed due to plaque buildup, leading to the formation of a blood clot that blocks the blood flow to the heart muscle. This lack of blood and oxygen supply causes damage to the heart muscle, resulting in a heart attack. Recognizing and managing risk factors, adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, and seeking medical care promptly are crucial steps in preventing this life-threatening event.

Indian Context

In India, heart attacks have become a significant concern due to various factors such as lifestyle changes, stress, sedentary habits, unhealthy diets, and a genetic predisposition to heart diseases in some individuals. It’s essential to raise awareness about this condition, as it can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated promptly.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person, but common signs to watch out for include:

Chest Pain: A feeling of pressure, tightness, or heaviness in the chest that may last for a few minutes or come and go.

Discomfort in Upper Body: Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing or feeling like you can’t catch your breath.

Cold Sweats and Nausea: Feeling lightheaded, nauseous, or breaking into a cold sweat.

It’s crucial to recognize these symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a heart attack.

Causes of a Heart Attack

As mentioned earlier, a heart attack is usually caused by the blockage of the coronary arteries. The plaque buildup can rupture, causing a blood clot to form, which obstructs the blood flow to the heart muscle. This lack of blood flow leads to damage or death of the heart muscle, resulting in a heart attack.

Risk Factors:

Several factors contribute to the development of plaque in the arteries and increase the risk of a heart attack. These include:

  • Unhealthy Diet: A diet high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and processed foods can accelerate plaque formation.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: Leading a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the development of risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol levels.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of plaque formation and rupture.
  • High Blood Pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure puts extra stress on the arteries, making them more prone to damage.
  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels and contribute to plaque buildup.
  • Family History: If you have a family history of heart disease, you may have a genetic predisposition to develop plaque in the arteries.

Prevention and Treatment

Prevention is the best approach to combat heart attacks. Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk. This includes:

Eating a Balanced Diet: Focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting salt, sugar, and processed foods.

Staying Physically Active: Engage in regular exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

Quit Smoking: Smoking damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of heart attacks. Quitting smoking is one of the most significant steps you can take to improve heart health.

Managing Stress: Practice relaxation techniques, meditation, or yoga to reduce stress levels.

Regular Health Checkups: Get regular checkups with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and overall heart health.

A heart attack is a serious condition that requires immediate attention. Knowing the symptoms and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle are essential steps in preventing this life-threatening event. If you or someone you know experiences any symptoms of a heart attack, do not delay seeking medical help. Remember, your heart is precious, so take good care of it!