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Every year, more than one million Americans suffer from myocardial infarction, more commonly known as heart attack. Heart attacks are typically a result of coronary artery disease, a type of heart disease which occurs when fatty plaque builds up on the walls of the coronary arteries.

A heart attack occurs when a blockage created by a blood clot or ruptured plaque cuts off blood flow in a coronary artery. The process can occur different ways:

The artery wall becomes coated with a fatty, sticky substance over time and plaque develops — blood may not be flowing freely enough through the coronary artery to reach the heart muscle.

A blood clot develops suddenly on the ulcerated plaque, blocking blood flow so that oxygen cannot reach the heart muscle.

A plaque within the artery wall ruptures abruptly creating a blockage preventing blood rich in oxygen from reaching the heart muscle. Once these things occur, the oxygen-starved muscle begins to die, resulting in pain and permanent damage. The damage may also cause an irregular heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia.

 Learn more about heart attack in the Cardiac Media Library.

Heart Attack Warning Signs in Men and Women
Chest pain with shortness of breath.
Pain in one or both arms.
Pain in your back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Additional Heart Attack Symptoms That May be Unique to Women
Nausea or dizziness without chest pain.
Shortness of breath or dizziness without chest pain.
Unexplained anxiety, cold sweats or paleness.

Treating a Heart Attack
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Physicians treat a heart attack by administering drugs (called thrombolytics or “clot busters”) in the Emergency Department or by performing an immediate balloon angioplasty procedure.

Evaluation may include electrocardiogram monitoring, echocardiogram or a stress test. The damaged area from the heart attack will eventually form a scar, a process that may take six weeks. Acute intervention (such as clot busters or angioplasty) should limit the amount of permanent scarring to the heart muscle.

If you think you’re experiencing heart trouble of any kind, the most important thing to remember is that “time is muscle” — in other words, DON’T DELAY in seeking medical assistance. Even if you’re not certain the problem is your heart (symptoms can be similar to indigestion), go to the emergency room right away. Immediate medical attention is critical to helping you avoid permanent, irreversible heart damage. Also remember that sometimes heart attacks occur with very few symptoms; some may even generate such minimal pain that they are called “silent heart attacks.” So take any warning sign seriously.

Anyone with heart attack warning signs needs to get medical treatment right away. 
Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives.

Don't wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 and avoid driving to the emergency room. By calling 9-1-1 and taking an ambulance you will get to the hospital and treated in the fastest way possible. There also are other benefits to calling 9-1-1:

• Emergency personnel can begin treatment immediately— even before you arrive at the hospital.
• Your heart may stop beating during a heart attack. Emergency personnel have the equipment and training needed to start it beating again.
• Heart attack patients who arrive by ambulance tend to receive faster treatment on their arrival at the hospital.

Learn more about heart attack from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

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