Heart attack: Warning Signs, Complications, and Treatment

What is heart attack?

A heart attack, also called coronary thrombosis or cardiac infarction, is a medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart becomes clogged as the result of a blood clot.

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A heart attack is mostly mixed up with a cardiac arrest. Both conditions may be medical emergencies, but a heart attack is the blockage of an artery leading to the heart. A cardiac arrest has to do with the heart stopping the pumping of blood around the body. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.


Heart attack is associated with clear symptoms that require immediate medical attention. A feeling of tightness in the chest, pressure, pain, squeezing, or aching in the chest or arms that spreads to the jaw, neck, or back can be a sign that a person is having a heart attack.

The following are other possible symptoms of a heart attack:

Warning signs

The symptoms listed above are all vital, but there are four warning signs listed by the American Heart Association (AHA) as being critical signs of an attack. These include:

  • discomfort, pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the chest that that is recurrent
  • pain in the neck, jaw, stomach, arms, or back
  • sudden shortness of breath
  • a cold sweat, a sick or nauseous feeling, or being dizzy.

READ ALSO: Tips to Lower Risk of a Heart Attack or Stroke

Causes of Heart attack

A heart attack is mostly caused by a combination of factors, rather than a single one when it occurs. The following factors increases the risk of a heart attack:

  • Age:Heart attack mostly affects men over 45, and women over 55.
  • Angina:This heart condition causes chest pain due to lack of oxygen or blood supply to the heart.
  • High cholesterol levels:These can increase the chance of blood clots in the arteries.
  • Diabetes: This can increase heart attack risk.
  • Diet:For example, consuming large quantities of saturated fats can increase the likelihood of a heart attack.
  • Genetics:A person can inherit a higher risk of heart attack.
  • Heart surgery: This can lead to a heart attack later on.
  • Hypertension:High blood pressure can put unnecessary strain on the heart.
  • Obesity:Being significantly overweight can put pressure on the heart.
  • Previous heart attack.
  • Smoking:Smokers have a higher risk than non-smokers.
  • HIV:People who are HIV-positive are more prone to having heart attack.
  • Work stress:Those who are shift workers or have stressful jobs can face a higher heart attack risk.

Physical inactivity is a factor in heart attack risk, and the more active people are, the lower their risk of having a heart attack.


Complications that can occur after heart attack includes:

  • Arrhythmias:This occurs when the heart beats unevenly, either too fast or too slowly.
  • Cardiogenic shock:This happens when a person’s blood pressure suddenly drops and the heart cannot supply sufficient blood for the body to work satisfactorily.
  • Pulmonary edema:This occurs when fluid gathers in and around the lungs.
  • Myocardial rupture: The heart attack damages the wall of the heart, leading to an increased risk of a heart wall rupture.
  • Hypoxemia:When the levels of oxygen in the blood become too low, the condition is called hypoxemia.
  • DVT or deep vein thrombosis:the deep veins of the legs and pelvis develop blood clots that block or interrupt the flow of blood in the vein.
  • Aneurysm:scar tissue builds up on the damaged heart wall, leading to blood clots, low blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Angina:insufficient oxygen reaches the heart, causing chest pain.
  • Congestive heart failure:the heart can only beat very weakly, leaving a person feeling exhausted and breathless.
  • Edema:fluid accumulates in the ankles and legs, causing them to swell.


Any doctor will send someone straight to hospital if they suspect they may be having a heart attack. Once there, several tests may be conducted, including:

  • Chest X-ray
  • ECG or electrocardiograph
  • cardiac enzyme tests

READ ALSO: 8 Home Remedies For Treating Angina


Early treatment of heart attack is essential to increase the chances of survival. These days, most heart attacks can be efficiently dealt with. A person’s survival depends on how quickly they get medical attention.

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Sometimes, a person who is having a heart attack will stop breathing. In this case, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, should promptly be administered. This process involves:

  • A defibrillator
  • manual chest compressions

Most people will need several kinds of medications or treatments after a heart attack to prevent future heart attacks occurring. They may include:

  • aspirin and other antiplatelets
  • statins
  • angioplasty
  • beta-blockers
  • CABG or coronary artery bypass graft
  • ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors

Preventing heart attack

The best way of stopping a heart attack is to have a healthy lifestyle. Measures for healthy living include the following:

  • avoid eating a balanced diet
  • quit smoking
  • controlling diabetes
  • getting lots of exercise
  • getting good quality sleep
  • reducing or avoiding intake of alcohol
  • maintaining blood cholesterol at optimum levels
  • keeping blood pressure at a safe level
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • avoiding stress

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