The heart is one of the most critical organs of an animal. It is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood that is necessary for the continued functioning of the body. When something goes wrong with other major organs such as the stomach or the brain, you can still function for a bit more time. It is not so with the heart. Once the heart has stopped beating, death can occur within minutes since the heart is directly responsible for feeding blood to the brain, keeping it-and you–functioning. Once that supply of blood is cut off, your brain stops, and so do the other major organs that need input from the brain to function.
There are many diseases that directly affect the heart. The most common is what is termed a heart attack.
Anatomy of a Broken Heart
A heart attack (also called myocardial infarction) happens when blood supply to the heart through the coronary artery is interrupted or stopped due, in most cases, to blood clot. The coronary artery is the blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart muscle. When this blockage happens, your heart sustains injury, and the injury causes chest pains and pressure. If the blood flow is not restored within 20 to 40 minutes, there will be an irreversible death to the heart muscle. Muscle death continues for six to eight more hours, after which the heart attack is termed as “complete”. The dead muscle is then replaced by a scar.
Atherosclerosis is one of the main causes of blood clotting and heart attack. It is the gradual buildup of cholesterol plaque in the walls of the arteries. In some instances, the plaque may rupture and a blood clot forms in its surface. The clot blocks the flow of blood, resulting in a heart attack. There is generally no definitive cause for why a plaque ruptures, but it is generally believed that practices like smoking, elevated LDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure are the most common causes.
Heart attacks can occur anytime. However, more attacks occurring between 4 AM and 10 AM since more blood levels of adrenaline are being released by the adrenal glands during the morning hours. It is thought that an increase in adrenaline contributes to rupture of cholesterol plaque.
Symptoms of Heart Attacks
The most common and classic symptom of a heart attack are chest pains and chest pressures that last for more than a few minutes, typically radiating to the left arm or the side of the neck. Other signs and symptoms of an impending heart attack include:
- shortness of breath
- increasing chest pain episodes
- heart palpitations
- anxiety (which is often described as a sense of impending doom)
Women may have different or less noticeable heart attack symptoms than men. In addition to the above symptoms, women may also feel:
- abdominal pain or heartburn
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- unexplained fatigue
- clammy skin
Contrary to what most television programs and movies show you, not all heart attacks can be dramatic. Some people don’t even show any symptoms at all. Also, not all people experience the same heart attack signs. If you have recurrent chest pains, then it is advised that you have yourself diagnosed by a doctor right away.
Getting Rid of Heart Attacks
If you or a friend succumb to heart attacks, do the following:
- Get emergency medical help right away. If you so much as even suspect that you might be having a heart attack, don’t delay. Call your local emergency number. Getting medical attention cannot be overemphasized enough. Early diagnosis and treatment can often save lives and delay often means permanently reduced function of the heart. If you can’t call a medical team, have a friend drive you to the nearest hospital. As much as possible, don’t take the wheel yourself. You may get a sudden attack in the middle of the road that may injure you and other people as well.
- Take nitroglycerin. If you have been prescribed nitroglycerin by the doctor, then take it. It will help alleviate the symptoms while waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
- Perform CPR. If the victim in unconscious, perform CPR. Doing so will help deliver the oxygenated blood to the brain while waiting for the medical staff to show up. Do chest compressions at a rate of 100 per minute.
Even if you’ve already had a heart attack in the past, you can still pretty much live a normal life through lifestyle change as well as medications. Here are a few tips to alleviate your heart attack symptoms:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves heart muscle function after a heart attack, and it keeps your heart in tip-top shape to safeguard you from having a heart attack. It helps you control your cholesterol levels, avoid high blood pressure, and lose weight-all factors in getting a heart attack.
- Take your prescribed medications. Doctors typically prescribe medications for those who are at high risk of heart attack, or who’ve had heart attacks in the past. Medications include blood-thinners that make your blood less sticky and less likely to clot, to cholesterol-lowering medications. Be sure to follow your doctor’s prescription and dose. Only stop if your doctors tells you to.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is one of the primary causes of heart problems so don’t attempt it. If you’re already a smoker, the most important thing you can do to alleviate your symptom is to stop.
- Get regular cholesterol check-ups. As mentioned, atherosclerosis is due to cholesterol plaque rupturing. Be sure to check your cholesterol level regularly. If it gets higher than normal, your doctor can prescribe some medications or regimens to get it back to acceptable levels.
- Maintain a healthy diet. A healthy diet can help maintain your cholesterol levels to acceptable standards. It can also help you control your weight, aside from making you healthy in general.
In the past, a heart attack was often fatal. Now, thanks to better awareness, the odds of surviving a heart attack have become much higher. Generally, just maintain a healthy lifestyle. How and what you eat, how often you exercise, and regular check-ups can keep your heart beating for a long time to come.
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