Your heart is one of the strongest organs in your body. Its function is to circulate blood throughout the entire body without ever missing a beat. However, if the heart itself doesn’t get enough blood, serious problems can occur. The most common of these is a myocardial infarction, or heart attack. This usually happens when arterial plaque ruptures and blocks a vessel or a blood clot breaks free and obstructs the coronary artery. Without oxygen-rich blood, the heart tissue will die.
Regular primary care plays an important role in disease prevention and overall wellness. If you do not have a primary care physician, we invite you to visit our Primary Care website to find quality care close to home.
Our doctors, clinicians and staff members are devoted to providing the best care possible, delivered with human touch. We are committed to treating each and every person we serve with dignity and respect. To schedule an appointment with a specialist of the Seton Heart Institute, please call toll-free 877-860-1141 or request an appointment online.
Wellness & Prevention
- Heart attacks are serious medical conditions that must be treated immediately. Without fast treatment, heart attacks can cause serious long-term health complications, and can often result in death. The best way to prevent a heart attack is by taking care of your heart health:
- Eat a diet that’s low in fat and cholesterol, like the Mediterranean diet
- Get regular exercise
- Maintain a normal weight
- Quit smoking
Heart attacks are usually brought on by blocked arteries that supply blood to the heart. However, they can also occur in other ways. Spasms of the coronary artery can disrupt blood flow. This is typically brought on from outside influences, like drug abuse. The tissue of the heart can also tear, creating problems for efficient blood flow.
- Heart attacks are classified into one of two groups, based on what symptoms they present:
- Acute heart attacks occur suddenly, have serious symptoms that are noticeable and require immediate attention. These are the types of heart attacks that most people are familiar with.
- Silent heart attacks make up 25 percent of all heart attacks, and may have few or no symptoms associated with them. Silent heart attacks can occur without you even realizing it, though they can be just as dangerous as acute heart attacks. The only way to tell if you’ve had a silent heart attack is with the use of imaging tests that will allow your doctor to determine if there are any changes to the structure of your heart.
- While some heart attacks may not have symptoms, there are several characteristic changes that can happen to your body that may signal a heart attack:
- Pain or pressure in your chest or arm that radiates to other areas of your body
- Indigestion or a “heartburn” feeling
- Shortness of breath and fatigue
- Irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained anxiety
While the presence of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate a heart attack, some cardiac events happen quickly and with little warning. Being able to recognize the symptoms of a possible heart attack is an important part of maintaining your heart health.
Since heart attacks present without symptoms so often, doctors have several tests they can use to diagnose a possible heart condition:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG will measure the electoral impulses of your heart to show your doctor any problems that may exist with the heart’s natural contractions.
- Echocardiogram: Used to provide images of the heart with the use of sound waves. This gives your doctor information on the shape, size and function of your heart.
- Exercise Stress Test: Usually done at the same time as an ECG or echocardiogram, an exercise stress test shows your doctor how your heart works during vigorous activity.
Your doctor may recommend a combination of these tests to get more information about your heart. Since heart attacks can happen silently with little warning, consult with your physician if you feel that you would benefit from a more thorough examination of your heart.
Whether the heart attack is acute or silent, immediate medical attention is necessary for the best possible treatment. Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend beginning a course of medication as soon as your heart attack is diagnosed. These medications help by thinning your blood to prevent clots, preventing platelets from sticking to arterial plaque and stabilizing the heart muscle. Taking medicine quickly after your heart attack begins can decrease the amount of damage done to your heart.
Once you’re at the hospital, your doctor may advise additional treatment. An angioplasty or stent implant may be used to help open up your blocked blood vessels. In extreme cases, bypass surgery may be required to return a normal supply of blood to your heart.
Patients recovering from heart attacks should take care to rest after leaving the hospital. The heart muscle will be weak following your heart attack. Your doctor may recommend rehabilitative heart therapy to begin strengthening your heart, but this should only be done with proper supervision.
Unfortunately, heart attack treatments will not stop future heart attacks from occurring. The best way to prevent future incidents is to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. This may include modifications to diet, exercise, and quitting habits like smoking, drinking and drug use.
Above all, regular check-ups with your doctor will give you the best outcome. Heart attacks can present quickly in patients at risk for them, and your doctor will be able to give you specific information on how to prevent future heart attacks and maintain your quality of life.