WHAT HAPPENS DURING A HEART ATTACK?
Every 42 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a heart attack. Find out what happens during a heart attack – and how you can reduce your risk.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A HEART ATTACK?
BLOCKAGES IN ARTERIES CAUSE MOST HEART ATTACKS
Usually it’s because a clot has blocked a coronary artery, and blood can’t flow.
HEART ATTACKS AREN’T ALWAYS FATAL
Not ignoring the signs and acting quickly is key.
ACTING QUICKLY CAN HELP SAVE A LIFE
In the event of a suspected heart attack, immediately call 9-1-1 and chew or crush and swallow aspirin as directed by a doctor.
Learn more about what happens during a heart attack and what to do if you think you or someone else is having one.
What is a Heart Attack, Exactly?
To grasp what happens during a heart attack, it helps to understand how the heart works. Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout your body. And like any other muscle, it needs oxygen to function. This happens via coronary arteries – the vessels that deliver blood to the heart muscle.
A heart attack, or what doctors call a “myocardial infarction,” happens when a blockage interrupts blood flow to the heart. Usually it’s because a clot has blocked a coronary artery. Clots can sometimes happen because of a substance called plaque. This substance is mostly made up of cholesterol, fat and calcium, and it can build up on the walls of arteries over many years, blocking your arteries.
As a result, a clogged coronary artery can cause the heart muscle to be starved for oxygen and nutrients. To help visualize what this means to your heart, think about what happens when your hand or leg “falls asleep.” It’s similar to what happens in the heart when blood isn’t flowing – the heart just can’t do its job.
What Are the Signs?
The signs can vary – and women often experience different signs than men. Knowing how to recognize the signs – and what to do when you or someone near you experiences them – is powerful knowledge.
It's no secret that heart attacks can be fatal. However, every year, thousands of Americans survive heart attacks to recover and go on to enjoy their lives.
HELP SAVE A LIFE.
Do you know what to do the moment you suspect someone's having a heart attack?
HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR STORIES
"I am thankful for each day and the opportunities it brings to share my experiences with others."
"I’ve changed my diet to minimize fat and salt. I’m learning to read labels and make healthy choices."
"It all comes down to listening – the cardiologists listening to us, and not just with their stethoscopes – and us listening to the cardiologists. Without both of these, there are no winners!"
"I now take a low dose Bayer Aspirin regimen, and I was told that the aspirin I was given during my heart attack helped save my life! Thanks for being there for me Bayer!"
On 11/18/2009, I had just finished an early morning duck hunt with my buddy and then went deer hunting. Up until this point I was a healthy 41-year-old male who worked out every day, worked on the railroad, and walked an average of 3-8 miles-a-work-day. I had no warning signs.
We stopped hunting that morning to take a break. I was flossing my teeth, and when I finished the left side of my lower jaw started to hurt… it was accompanied by a heartburn sensation in the center of my chest. I was 7 miles from my doctor’s office, and I drove straight there – and as soon as I walked in, I was immediately taken back and was told I was having a heart attack.
My doctor gave me Bayer Aspirin and nitro while waiting on the ambulance. The closest hospital was Moore Regional in Pinehurst, N.C., normally a 40-minute ride. I was later told that they got me there in 18 minutes and that I suffered sudden cardiac death 8 times. The first was in the ambulance and the rest were in the ER and cath lab, but by the grace of God I was brought back each time.
I had a stent placed in my right coronary artery and was told by my doctor that I had a complete blockage and it was a miracle I was alive. I now take a low dose Bayer Aspirin regimen and I was told that the aspirin I was given during my heart attack helped save my life! Thanks for being there for me Bayer!
Just 3 weeks ago, I was out on a 20-mile bicycle ride, which isn’t uncommon for me. I’m 54, in reasonably good health (5’11”, 195) and in the past few years have made attempts to eat more healthy. Yet, when I got back from my ride, I felt like I had – as bike riders say – “hit the wall.” I felt tired and decided to get some food and something to drink at home. As I sat there, I noticed a slight burning in my esophagus. Sometimes during a bike ride I would slightly feel this, but accounted it as needing a break to let my lungs catch up with my riding. Yet this time, it wasn’t going away. I described it as if I had swallowed a sharp tortilla chip sideways! The pain was enough to get my attention, but not enough to cause me to panic. I decided to take a shower and swallow a couple of aspirin. I cut my shower short, and the pain was still there. I realized that it was time to let my wife know. She immediately said, “Let’s go to the Emergency Room at Stanford.”
We were in the E.R. within 7 minutes, and I was being treated within 30 seconds of walking in the door. My blood pressure was 199/108. I received at least a dozen EKGs within 15 minutes’ time, and was given sublingual Nitroglycerine, my pain remaining at about a 6 out of 10 throughout. There was no change, so they put me on an I.V. of Nitro, and took me for an angiogram. I must say that at this point, I just surrendered to whatever they needed to do. All concern for privacy, dignity and all that other guy-stuff paled in comparison to wanting them to solve the problem.
In the Cath Lab, they prepped me for an angiogram. I was told what the procedure would be. They were going to insert a wire into my femoral artery in my groin and then “snake” it up my artery in to my heart. They would then inject some dye into my heart so that my blood flow would show up on screen. It was then that I found that I would remain awake during the process. As I said, at this point, I had surrendered to whatever they needed to do. As the doctors injected the dye, the screen showed a blockage on my right coronary artery. The doctor leaned over and told me, “Your artery is blocked and we're going to fix it right now.” The doctor inserted an angioplasty with a stent.
During the installation, I felt a little bit more pain than before, but it didn’t last very long. I was monitored in the Coronary Care Unit (the ICU ward for cardiac patients) and after a day’s rest, was sent back to the Cath Lab to receive 3 more angioplasties for partially blocked arteries.
The next day, I was discharged with meds for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an anti-clotting agent to keep things flowing through the stents in my heart. I was also given instructions for taking baby aspirin for the rest of my life. Looking back, I’m glad I heeded the warning signs and went to get checked at the hospital. I was told that I did the right thing. I’ve changed my diet to minimize fat and salt. I’ve cut out a lot of processed foods because they’re packed with a lot of sodium. I’m learning to read labels and make healthy choices. I encourage you to learn from my experience and make the right choices while you have the choice to make!
I am the “poster child” for those who do not meet the heart risks normally listed, yet have heart disease. I began having heart issues 5 years ago, at age 51. I have never smoked, and the only family history is my father who had an angioplasty 40 years ago and an atrial fib last year, which was regulated by meds. I am not diabetic; I am not obese; I exercise every day (height: 5’2”; weight 110); I eat right; etc. Yet, my blood pressure is extremely low and my pulse too high. My symptoms are not “textbook” in that they are due to being born with heart birth defects, rather than related to those symptoms attributed to patients with plaque and blocked arteries. One of those birth defects was corrected by cardiac ablation. We are presently attempting to control the other two defects with meds, but it could still eventually lead to open heart surgery.
For five years now, I have passed every heart stress test, EKG, and many other heart tests, as cardiologists were looking for blocked arteries and the norm. My heart issues are not the norm by a long shot. I have been fortunate to have finally found a cardiologist (after firing four others for not listening) who understands that I am not “textbook.” I have a message that women need to hear, so I recently wrote a book entitled, “Can You Hear Me Now: or Do I Need to Yell into your Stethoscope?
It all comes down to listening – the cardiologists listening to us, and not just with their stethoscopes – and us listening to the cardiologists. Without both of these, there are no winners!
I come from a family that has experienced the reality of heart disease for generations. My grandmother died early from heart disease, as did my mother and her six siblings. Even with this strong family history, I was in denial and felt I would somehow dodge the bullet. I was not as vigilant as I should have been with my own health. I became overweight, did not exercise, and failed to find the best ways to deal with my stress.
It should not have been a surprise when I had a heart attack at the early age of 52, on Christmas Eve. I was quickly diagnosed and life-lifted to Duke Hospital, where I underwent surgery to receive a cardiac stent. Needless to say, this experience was a wake-up call for me. I realized I was one of the lucky ones, so I took it upon myself to learn everything that I could about the heart and heart disease.
I have been blessed with a beautiful family that I want to enjoy for years to come. It has been 10 years since that encounter. During that time I have lost 80 pounds, and I am determined to keep it off with proper eating habits and exercise. My Bayer® Aspirin is part of my routine to stay healthy.
I now look at each day as a gift. I’ve been able to enjoy so many of the blessings that I might have missed out on: time with my wonderful, supportive husband, seeing my son develop into a man that we are both so proud of, my daughter’s graduation from high school and college, her marriage, my wonderful 3-year-old grandson, and the delightful times with my sisters and friends at other events. I have worked with high school science teachers and students for years. I have the unique opportunity to assist students in gaining knowledge of the heart structure, function and health.
Currently, I work at NC Central University as the Outreach Coordinator for the BRITE Program. In this this position I am able to work with students throughout the state of NC. Over the past few years I have taken it upon myself to develop a Module to teach students about the heart called “The Beat Goes On” which focuses on the cardiovascular system. It identifies the genetic and environmental factors that influence an individual’s likelihood of developing heart disease. Students learn about Sudden Cardiac Arrest and use EKG sensors to make graphical recordings of their heart’s electrical events. I am thankful for each day and the opportunities it brings to share my experiences with others.
Aspirin regimen products for recurrent heart attack prevention
Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen.
Bayer® Aspirin is available in a variety of doses and forms.
Learn more by clicking on a product below.
Use as directed.
1 This tool is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, medical advice, or medical treatment. Contact your healthcare provider after using the tool to discuss your heart health or if you have any health concerns.
2 Estimated risk of a cardiovascular event, specifically, the risk of a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) or stroke in the next five years.