WHAT IS A HEART ATTACK: DURING, & AFTER

Learn more about the stages of a heart attack – what causes and what happens during an attack, as well as what the recovery process is like – plus what to do if you suspect you or someone else is having a heart attack.

 

WHAT IS A HEART ATTACK:

DURING, & AFTER

QUICK READ

ARTERY BLOCKAGES CAUSE MOST HEART ATTACKS

Usually the blockage happens because a plaque ruptures and causes a blood clot.



HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS CAN VARY BETWEEN MEN & WOMEN

There are common heart attack symptoms for both sexes, but women often experience certain symptoms more than men.



ACTING QUICKLY DURING A SUSPECTED HEART ATTACK IS CRITICAL

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.



SURVIVING & RECOVERING FROM A HEART ATTACK IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERY PERSON

From changing lifestyle habits to learning new, heart-healthy ones, every heart attack survivor recovers in their own way.

    WHAT HAPPENS LEADING UP TO AND DURING A HEART ATTACK.

    Your heart is an amazing muscle, beating around 100,000 times a day and pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood to the rest of your body. And like any other muscle, it requires a constant flow of oxygen-rich blood to function. Your coronary arteries supply the heart with blood, and a heart attack is what happens when one of these arteries’ blood flow gets interrupted. “Myocardial infarction” is the medical term:

    • Myo meaning muscle in Latin
    • Cardial referring to the Latin word for heart
    • And infarction, a medical term that refers to tissue death as the result of lack of blood flow

    If you’ve ever had your foot or arm “fall asleep,” you have a sense of what’s going on when the heart can’t get the blood it needs.

    HOW AND WHEN BLOCKAGES FORM

    It can take a number of years for a blockage large enough to cause a heart attack to develop. Usually it’s the result of plaque build-up on an artery wall, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Plaque is a sticky substance made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.

    In the moments leading up to most heart attacks, the body is responding to a burst plaque within one of the heart’s arteries. When a plaque bursts, it can trigger blood clot formation. The normally helpful clotting action of cells called platelets then block blood flow to the heart, causing its tissue to die – resulting in a myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

    SYMPTOMS OF A HEART ATTACK

    Every heart attack is unique in that each person may experience different symptoms. Sometimes there’s a combination of many symptoms, and other times a person may only have one or two. Others still may not actually feel anything except “something’s just not right.” Yet, it’s important to know some of the common warning signs.

    WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A HEART ATTACK?

    Common warning signs of a heart attack for everyone include:

    • Chest tightness: discomfort in the center, right or left side of the chest
    • Nausea: feeling sick to the stomach*
    • Shortness of Breath: difficult or labored breathing with or without chest pain*
    • Lightheadedness: dizziness or feeling like you are about to pass out
    • Pain in the Arms, Back, Neck or Jaw: either gradual (pain that comes and goes) or sudden*
    • Paleness: Loss of color on the face and skin
    • Sweating: breaking out in perspiration with cold, clammy skin
    • Extreme fatigue: severe, unexplained tiredness*

    And just as heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person, their onset is different as well – some may feel the effects suddenly, while other symptoms could come on gradually, go away and then return.

    *more common in women

     

    ACT QUICKLY

    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. This simple step can reduce the risk of death from heart attack by 23% when taken during a suspected heart attack, and for 30 days thereafter.

    Even if you’re not sure whether it’s a heart attack or not, it’s much better to be safe and get help.

    HEART ATTACK SURVIVAL IS A LONG-TERM GOAL.

    In the days and weeks following a heart attack, life for survivors and their families can be a challenging time. Aside from the physical toll the process takes, there’s an emotional impact as well. For the survivor, it’s about balancing a need to feel support from the ones they love and the struggle to not feel like a burden to them. For their loved ones, it is often about finding the right balance of supporting the healing process at the survivor’s own pace and motivating them toward making healthier lifestyle choices without pushing too hard.

    And while it can be inspiring to know that many survive a heart attack and go on to live several years beyond their heart event, it’s also important to know that statistically, 20% of heart attack survivors over 45 will have another one within 5 years. Moreover, other risk factors like having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes could mean it’s even more likely for a survivor to have another heart attack.

    That’s why it helps to have a longer-term perspective after a heart attack. Going from “heart attack victim” to “heart attack survivor” takes work, and it starts from the first day after the attack.

    So how can you stay motivated and beat the odds?

    GET INTO RECOVERY MODE.

    For many, surviving a heart attack is powerful motivation for never having another. And as challenging as it can be, heart attack survivors who make a commitment to heart-healthy choices as part of their recovery have reason to hope: 70% of the major risk factors for heart attack can be controlled through lifestyle choices.

    The first few days after a heart attack are an opportunity to set the tone for the next phase in a survivor’s life. It’s a chance to:

    • Learn more about heart health: study this list of terms to strengthen knowledge and prepare yourself for meaningful conversations with health care providers.
    • Talk to your doctor: arm yourself with this list of questions and don’t be afraid to add to it. Getting answers to your questions can help empower your recovery.
    • Prepare for cardiac rehab: if your doctor recommends it, it might help to learn what to expect from cardiac rehab and hit the ground running, so to speak.
    • Start think about lifestyle changes you can make: living heart- healthy after a heart attack means different steps for each person, so it helps to begin to decide what it means to you.
    • Establish your support system: you don’t have to go it alone. There are many options for getting the support you need – and you may even be just the friend someone else needs, too!
    • Don’t ignore your mental and emotional health: it is very common – and nothing to be ashamed of – to experience depression after a heart attack. Learn the signs and get help right away if you need it.

    The journey to becoming a heart attack survivor is different for each person, and while it can present what seem like insurmountable challenges, many long-term survivors note that they got where they are one step at a time.

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    MANAGING RISK:

    WHY PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS MAY NOT BE ENOUGH

    If you take prescription medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, they may not be enough to protect your heart. Talk to your doctor about whether these medications are enough for you and whether adding an aspirin regimen can help further reduce the risk of another heart attack or clot-related (ischemic) stroke.

    LEARN HOW ASPIRIN COULD HELP

    Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen. 

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    CARRY ASPIRIN.
    HELP SAVE A LIFE.

    Do you know what to do the moment you suspect someone's having a heart attack?

    HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR STORIES

    elderly woman smiling

    BETTY B

    "I am thankful for each day and the opportunities it brings to share my experiences with others."

    READ MORE >
    older male with young child

    KEN L

    "I’ve changed my diet to minimize fat and salt. I’m learning to read labels and make healthy choices."

    READ MORE >
    elderly woman smiling

    CINDY B

    "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!"

    READ MORE >
    middle aged man with sunglasses and baseball cap

    RANDY W

    "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!"

    READ MORE >

    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.

    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.

    Estimated risk of a cardiovascular event, specifically, the risk of a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) or stroke in the next five years.