A heart attack rarely comes as a surprise. In most cases, it takes years of existing coronary artery disease to lead to it. According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases cause nearly 17 million deaths per year, making it the leading cause of death and disability worldwide.
So, what is a heart attack?
A heart attack also called a myocardial infarction or MI happens when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. It often happens because of a sudden blockage, usually by a blood clot. A lack of blood in the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle.
What are the risk factors?
Risk factors fall into two categories – ones that are within our control, and ones that are not. For example, our sex, age, and heredity. Heart diseases occur about twice as often in men as in women. However, there are modifiable conditions that depend on our lifestyle. Smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and glucose levels, physical inactivity, being overweight are prominent risk factors.
How do I recognize a heart attack?
It’s not as simple as it might seem. Heart attacks can mask other illnesses. Sometimes the symptoms might seem similar to an intestinal infection: abdominal pain, bloating, weakness, a drop in blood pressure, tachycardia – sounds more like digestion problems, not heart failure. There is the asthmatic variety when there is no severe heart pain, but suffocation instead.
The cerebral type resembles a stroke, with confusion and speech slurring.
There are also “silent” heart attacks, which may be completely painless. They often occur in patients with diabetes.
Angina is a common mask of a heart attack, “hiding” in about 10% of patients. In this case, pain manifests only when walking. This type of heart attack is usually discovered when recorded on the ECG.