Somewhere around one million Americans suffer from a heart attack each year. This is a very big number and, because of the risk, we all need to have a better idea of what happens during a heart attack. The heart is a muscle that depends on a constant, stable supply of blood to function effectively. The blood required is sent to the heart by the coronary arteries which must be clear of any obstructions to provide the amount of blood required.
Most of us have two coronary arteries, the left and the right, but about 4 percent of us have a third artery as well supplying blood to different areas of the heart.
When any of the coronary arteries become either partially or completely blocked by plaque the blood supply to the heart is interrupted and, very quickly, heart muscle cells begin to perish from lack of oxygen rich blood and permanent damage is done. This is what a "heart attack" is, the death of heart muscle cells that inhibits the normal operation.
Recovery from a heart attack is a lengthy process, usually lasting about three months. As happens with most wounds, during the healing process the heart will form scar tissue at the sight of the damage. Because this scar tissue can not expand and contract, the overall capacity of the heart to move blood throughout the system is permanently degraded after a heart attack. The severity of the loss really depends on both the location and the amount of scar tissue that is formed.
In case of a heart attack, the quicker treatment is administered to open the blocked artery the less damage will result. It is crucial to begin treatment within one to two hours of the first symptoms. So be familiar with the symptoms of heart attack and call 911 quickly if you do suffer from an attack.
A short list of symptoms include:
- Pain in the chest area, arm, or under the breastbone
- Indigestion or "fullness" feeling
- Nausea, dizziness, sweating or vomiting
- Shortness of breath, feeling very weak
- Irregular heart beat
If you feel that you are at risk of a heart attack, there are steps you should take to minimize the risk including speaking with your health provider. Other steps to take include:
- Stop Smoking (or do not start!)
- Eat a healthy diet low in fat and cholesterol
- Begin an exercise program that lasts at least 30 minutes several times a week
- Take steps to lower your cholesterol