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An overview of heart attack symptoms, causes and Treatment 

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1 Can you tell me what a heart attack is?

Can you tell me what a heart attack is?

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, is a serious medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle itself is blocked. This blockage can happen when a buildup of plaque in the coronary artery ruptures, causing a blood clot to form. When this happens, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, which can cause damage or even death of the heart muscle.

The following are some of the symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort: This can feel like a squeezing, pressure, or fullness in the chest, and it may spread to the arms, jaw, neck, back, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety or Panic
  • Nausea or Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid or Irregular heartbeats

Not all people who have a heart attack experience the same symptoms, and some people may not have chest pain at all. Atypical symptoms include back, shoulder or jaw pain or discomfort with any of the above symptoms. The symptoms may vary depending on the individual and the extent of the damage.

A heart attack is a medical emergency, and it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you or someone else is having a heart attack. Time is of the essence in this case, and the faster the person receives medical care, the better the chances of survival and recovery.

Treatment for a heart attack typically includes medications to dissolve the blood clot, such as clot-busting drugs and anticoagulants, and procedures such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery. Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and not smoking are necessary to reduce the risk of future heart attacks, but won’t help in the moment for a current heart attack.

There is a difference between the symptoms experienced by men and women during a heart attack: 

Heart attack symptoms can vary between men and women, and it’s essential to be aware of these differences.

In general, men tend to experience more typical symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain or discomfort, which can feel like a squeezing, pressure, or fullness in the chest. Many people describe the feeling of an elephant sitting on their chest causing both pain and shortness of breath. The pain may spread to the arms, jaw, neck, back, or stomach. Men may also experience shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea or dizziness.

Women, on the other hand, may experience different or less typical symptoms of a heart attack. These can include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that is less severe or not present at all
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Abdominal pain

It’s important to note that not all people who have a heart attack experience the same symptoms, and some people may not have chest pain at all. The symptoms may vary depending on the individual and the extent of the damage.

It’s essential for both men and women to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and to seek medical attention immediately if they suspect they or someone else is having a heart attack. Time is of the essence in this case, and the faster the person receives medical care, the better the chances of survival and recovery.

How heart attack symptoms may differ for people with diabetes ?

Heart attack symptoms may differ for people with diabetes, as the symptoms may be less pronounced or atypical. People with diabetes may experience the following symptoms during a heart attack:
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain or discomfort that is less severe or not present at all

It’s important to note that people with diabetes may also have a higher risk of silent heart attacks, in which there are no symptoms or mild symptoms, and the individual may not be aware that they are having a heart attack. This can happen because diabetes can cause damage to the nerves, making it difficult to feel pain or discomfort in the chest. Diabetes sharply increases the risk of cardiac disease, so it is important to take every precaution.

It’s essential for people with diabetes to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and to seek medical attention immediately if they suspect they or someone else is having a heart attack. Time is of the essence, and the faster the person receives medical care, the better their chances of survival and recovery.

Additionally, people with diabetes should be vigilant about managing their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and not smoking to reduce the risk of heart attack.

Heart Attack vs Angina 

Angina (Unstable Angina and Stable Angina )and heart attack are both related to the heart’s blood supply but they are different conditions.

Angina is chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. It is a symptom of coronary artery disease and is typically triggered by physical activity or emotional stress. Angina is considered a stable condition, and the symptoms can be relieved by rest or by taking medications such as nitroglycerin. Angina is also an early warning sign from your body that cardiovascular health is not optimal and should be taken seriously.

On the other hand, a heart attack is a serious medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked, typically due to a buildup of plaque, or a clot in the coronary artery. A heart attack can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle and can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

Symptoms of angina and heart attack can be similar, and it can be difficult to tell them apart. However, in general, angina symptoms tend to be triggered by physical activity or emotional stress and can be relieved by rest or medication, while heart attack symptoms are usually more severe and persistent and will not go away with rest or medication.

Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone else is having a heart attack or if you have any symptoms of angina that change in frequency, duration, or severity. Your healthcare provider will be able to determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.

The causes of a heart attack

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is blocked, usually by a buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. This can cause damage to the heart muscle and is life-threatening if not treated promptly. Other causes of heart attack include blood clots, spasms of the coronary arteries, and problems with the heart’s electrical system. Risk factors for heart attack include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, dehydration, and a family history of heart disease.

Additional risk factors for heart attack include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor diet, high in saturated and trans fats, sugar, and salt
  • Age (the risk of heart attack increases as you get older)
  • Gender (men have a higher risk of heart attack than women)
  • Stress and emotional distress
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Illicit drug use such as cocaine
  • Sleep apnea
  • Metabolic disorders such as metabolic syndrome, hyperhomocysteinemia, and Cushing’s disease
  • Certain medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and thyroid disorders
  • Use of certain medications such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy in women.

It’s worth noting that many of the above risk factors are modifiable, meaning that lifestyle changes and/or medications can help reduce your risk of heart attack.

There are also some specific populations that may have an increased risk of heart attack. These include:

  • Individuals with a family history of heart disease or premature heart disease (heart disease that occurs before the age of 55 in men or 65 in women)
  • Individuals of African American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian descent, who may have a higher risk of heart disease due to genetic and cultural factors
  • Individuals with a previous history of heart attack, angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart), or other forms of heart disease
  • Individuals with certain conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, which can increase the risk of heart attack.

It’s also important to note that some people may not have any traditional risk factors for heart attack but may still be at risk due to other factors such as inflammation, high levels of certain blood markers, or other unknown factors.

It’s important to see a doctor regularly and to address any known risk factors in order to reduce your risk of heart attack. It is also important to be aware of the signs of a heart attack and to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you or someone else is having one.

In addition to the traditional risk factors and populations at increased risk for heart attack, there are also some emerging risk factors that have been identified in recent years. These include:

  • Air pollution: Long-term exposure to air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter, has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Vitamin D deficiency: Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Some studies estimate that up to 75% of the US population has sub-optimal levels of vitamin D.
  • Gum disease: Periodontal disease (gum disease) has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases, possibly due to the increased inflammation and bacterial infection in the mouth.
  • Stress: Chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases, possibly due to the effects of stress on heart rate, blood pressure, and inflammation in the body.
  • Lack of sleep: Chronic lack of sleep has been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases, possibly due to the effects of sleep deprivation on blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation in the body.

It’s worth noting that many of these emerging risk factors are also modifiable through lifestyle changes and/or medications, and it’s important to take them into account when assessing your risk of heart attack.

What is the best way to diagnose a heart attack?

A heart attack should be diagnosed in an emergency medical facility or hospital emergency room. This will be done through a combination of a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) or a cardiac CT scan. During a physical exam, a healthcare provider will check for signs of chest pain, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat. Blood tests can be used to measure levels of certain enzymes and proteins that are released into the bloodstream when the heart muscle is damaged. An ECG can detect changes in the electrical activity of the heart, while a cardiac CT scan can create detailed images of the heart and blood vessels to look for signs of blockages. In some cases, additional tests such as an echocardiogram or a stress test may also be performed.

Additional diagnostic tests that may be used to diagnose a heart attack include:

  • Angiogram: A special dye is injected into the blood vessels of the heart, and X-rays are taken to check for blockages in the coronary arteries.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A thin tube is inserted into a blood vessel and guided to the heart to check for blockages in the coronary arteries.
  • Nuclear stress test: A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream and a special camera is used to take pictures of the heart while the patient is exercising. This test can detect areas of the heart that are not getting enough blood flow.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A magnetic field and radio waves are used to create detailed images of the heart and blood vessels. This test is less invasive than an angiogram, but it is not as widely available.
  • Biomarkers test: blood tests like Troponin, CK-MB or myoglobin can be used to detect cardiac injury which can be due to heart attack.

These tests are not always necessary, and the specific tests used will depend on the patient’s individual case and symptoms.

In addition, healthcare providers may also ask about the patient’s medical history and any risk factors they may have for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or a family history of heart problems. Symptoms of a heart attack can also vary between individuals and can include chest pain or discomfort, pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, severe anxiety, or lightheadedness.

It’s also important to note that a definitive diagnosis of a heart attack is made when the patient has elevated cardiac biomarkers or a significant electrocardiogram (ECG) changes in conjunction with symptoms and/or imaging findings consistent with acute coronary syndrome.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of a heart attack must seek medical attention as soon as possible. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the damage to the heart muscle and improve the patient’s chances of recovery.

Another important aspect of diagnosing a heart attack is to rule out other potential causes of symptoms, such as a panic attack, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, or a gastrointestinal issue. A healthcare provider may also consider other conditions such as angina, which is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease (CAD) and may indicate that a person is at risk for a heart attack.

Not all heart attacks present with the classic symptoms, some people, especially women, diabetics, and older adults may have atypical symptoms or no symptoms at all, which is known as a silent heart attack. These individuals are at risk for delayed diagnosis and treatment and therefore it’s important for them to undergo regular checkups and screenings.

Heart attacks are diagnosed through a combination of symptoms, physical examination, blood tests, and imaging studies. 

Can you tell me what is the best way to treat a heart attack?

If you suspect you or someone you love is having a heart attack, get emergency help immediately. Treatment for a heart attack typically begins as soon as a person reaches the hospital. The primary goal of treatment is to restore blood flow to the affected area of the heart as quickly as possible to minimize damage to the heart muscle. The treatment options include:
  • Medications: Aspirin is usually given immediately as it can help prevent blood clots from forming. Other medications such as thrombolytics, antiplatelets, and anticoagulants may also be given to dissolve blood clots and prevent further clots from forming.
  • Coronary Angioplasty and Stenting: A catheter with a small balloon on the end is inserted into the blocked coronary artery and inflated to open the blockage. A stent, which is a small mesh tube, may also be placed in the artery to keep it open.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery: This is a more invasive procedure in which a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body is used to bypass the blocked coronary artery and restore blood flow to the heart.
  • Lifestyle changes: After a heart attack, a patient will be instructed to make lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular physical activity to reduce the risk of another heart attack.
  • Rehabilitation: Cardiac rehabilitation programs can help patients recover faster and improve their overall health. These programs include supervised exercise, education about heart health, and counseling to help manage stress and depression.

It’s important to note that the specific treatment plan will depend on the individual case, the severity of the heart attack and overall health condition of the patient. Timely treatment can greatly improve the patient’s chances of recovery and reduce the risk of complications.

Treatments for heart attacks that are alternative to conventional medicine

Heart attacks require emergency treatment as a life-saving precaution and a visit to the emergency room or hospital is vital in the moment. After the acute danger has passed, there are also some alternative therapies that may be used in conjunction with or as an alternative to conventional treatments to reduce the risk of future episdes.

  • Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese practice involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to promote healing and relieve pain. It’s thought to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation, which can benefit the heart.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish oil supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.
  • Coenzyme Q10: This antioxidant is found in every cell in the body, and it’s thought to help improve heart function by reducing inflammation and improving energy production in the heart.
  • Yoga and meditation: These practices may help reduce stress, improve circulation, and lower blood pressure, which can all be beneficial for heart health.

Herbs and supplements: Some herbs and supplements such as garlic, ginger, hawthorn, and magnesium are believed to have cardio-protective properties.

It’s important to note that alternative treatments should not replace conventional medical treatments, and are not appropriate for an acute heart attack. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any alternative therapy. Additionally, some alternative treatments may interact with medications or have other side effects, so they must be used with care.

Ways to reduce chance of a heart attack

While there are some risk factors for heart attacks that are not in your control, like age, gender, and family history, the bulk of the risk factors are changeable. There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of having a heart attack:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, and quitting greatly reduces your risk of having a heart attack.
  • Eat a healthy diet: A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, and low in saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and cholesterol can help to reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help to improve heart health by strengthening the heart muscle, lowering blood pressure, and reducing stress.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight through a combination of healthy eating and regular physical activity.
  • Manage your blood pressure and cholesterol: High blood pressure and cholesterol are major risk factors for heart disease, so it’s important to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly and take steps to manage them if they are high.
  • Control diabetes: Diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to manage your blood sugar levels and keep them under control.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. It’s important to limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels.
  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress through activities such as yoga, meditation, or regular exercise.

It’s important to note that not all the risk factors for heart attack are modifiable and some are hereditary, but by adopting a healthy lifestyle and working with your healthcare provider, you can greatly reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

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Amy Neuzil
Amy Neuzil

Dr. Amy Neuzil, N.D. is a leading expert in MTHFR and epigenetics, and she is passionate about helping people achieve optimal health and wellness for their genetic picture. She has helped thousands of people overcome health challenges using a simple, step-by-step approach that starts with where they are today. Dr. Neuzil's unique approach to wellness has helped countless people improve their energy levels, lose weight, and feel better mentally and emotionally. If you're looking for a way to feel your best, Dr. Amy Neuzil can help. Contact her today to learn more about how she can help you achieve optimal health and wellness.

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