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.