A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a section of the heart muscle dies or gets damaged because of reduced blood supply. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm of a coronary artery, which also can prevent blood supply from reaching the heart.
It is important to seek treatment for a heart attack immediately. Otherwise, further damage to the heart muscle can occur and an irregular heart rhythm may develop.
Sudden cardiac arrest—the stopping of the heart—occurs when the heart stops completely. Unless treated, a person whose heart has stopped can die within minutes.
People who experience a heart attack need emergency care such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or electrical shock (defibrillation). That's why you need to act quickly once you notice the signs and symptoms of heart attack.
If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Bystanders who have been trained to perform CPR or use a defibrillator may be able to help the victim until emergency medical personnel arrive. At the hospital, doctors can perform tests to determine whether a heart attack is occurring and decide on the best treatment.
Remember, the chances of surviving a heart attack are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly.
Life After an Attack
If you've had a heart attack, your heart may still be damaged. This could affect your heart's rhythm, pumping action, and blood circulation. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease. But, there are steps you can take to lower your chances of having future health problems.
Your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation, which is a program that can help you make lifestyle changes to improve your heart health and quality of life. These changes may include taking medication, changing what you eat, increasing your physical activity, stopping smoking, and managing stress. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor about everyday activities. He or she may want you to limit work, travel, sex, or exercise.
- Page last reviewed: March 12, 2013
- Page last updated: March 12, 2013
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