Heart Attack


Roberta’s Story

Roberta Richardson didn’t know she was having a heart attack. For days she hadn’t felt her usual self, but typical of a busy woman and business owner, there were homes to decorate and too many irons in the fire to slow down. Besides, the symptoms of her heart attack were not the same as her late father’s. Roberta is now encouraging other women to take their heart health seriously. Watch the video to learn more.

What is a heart attack (myocardial infarction)?

A heart attack occurs when one or more regions of the heart muscle experience a severe or prolonged lack of oxygen caused by blocked blood flow to the heart muscle.

The blockage is often a result of atherosclerosis—a buildup of plaque composed of fat deposits, cholesterol, and other substances. Plaque ruptures and eventually a blood clot forms. The actual cause of a heart attack is a blood clot that forms within the plaque-obstructed area.

If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off severely or for a long period of time, muscle cells of the heart suffer damage and die. The result is dysfunction of the muscle of the heart in the area affected by the lack of oxygen.

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

Heart attack symptoms may vary among individuals; additionally, the symptoms for women are often different from the symptoms men experience. However, both men and women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest discomfort

Symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest, which may last more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Unexplained weakness or fatigue
  • Rapid or irregular pulse

Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cold sweat
  • Pain in back or jaw

Call 911 immediately if you or someone you know exhibits any of the above warning signs! Go to a hospital-based ER; do not drive to the Emergency Room. Click here to learn why.

What are the risk factors for heart attack?

There are two types of risk factors for heart attacks, inherited/genetic or acquired.

Inherited or genetic risk factors are risk factors you are born with that cannot be changed, but can be improved with medical management and lifestyle changes.

Inherited/genetic factors: Who is most at risk?

  •  People with inherited hypertension (high blood pressure)
  •  People with inherited low levels of HDL (high-density lipoproteins), high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides
  •  People with a family history of heart disease (especially with onset before age 55)
  •  Aging men and women
  •  People with type 1 diabetes
  •  Women, after the onset of menopause (generally, men are at risk at an earlier age than women, but after the onset of menopause, women are equally at risk)

Acquired risk factors are caused by activities that we choose to include in our lives that can be managed through lifestyle changes and clinical care.

Acquired risk factors: Who is most at risk?

  • People with acquired hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • People with acquired low levels of HDL (high-density lipoproteins), high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • Cigarette smokers
  • People who are under a lot of stress
  • People who drink too much alcohol
  • People who lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • People overweight by 30 percent or more
  • People who eat a diet high in saturated fat
  • People with type 2 diabetes

A heart attack can happen to anyone.

It is only when we take the time to learn which of the risk factors apply to us, specifically, can we then take steps to eliminate or reduce them.

Managing heart attack risk factors

Managing your risks for a heart attack begins with:

  • Examining which of the risk factors apply to you, and then taking steps to eliminate or reduce them.
  • Becoming aware of conditions like hypertension or abnormal cholesterol levels, which may be “silent killers.”
  • Modifying risk factors that are acquired (not inherited) through lifestyle changes. Consult your doctor as the first step in starting right away to make these changes.
  • Consulting your health care provider soon to determine if you have risk factors that are genetic or inherited and cannot be changed, but can be managed medically and through lifestyle changes.