Heart Attack: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis

Heart Attack occurs when the build-up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances block the flow to the heart. The build-up usually forms a plaque in the arteries that help in circulating the blood to the heart or from the heart. Any blockage in this way causes hindrance in the normal blood circulation and when the heart doesn’t get a sufficient amount of blood to pumped up, the reflex reaction of the heart can be termed as Heart Attack.

Some Common Facts about Heart Attack

  • It is estimated that every year, about a million Americans have Heart Attack.  
  • Heart Attack is also known as Myocardial Infarctions (MI), where “Myo” refers to muscle, “Cardial” refers to the heart, and “Infraction” means the death of tissue due to insufficient or lack of blood supply.
  • Because of the insufficient supply of blood and the death of tissue during Heart Attack, the muscles of the heart get damaged.
  • The chances of Heart Attack increase for women above 55 and men above 45.
  • This problem can be fatal. However, there are treatments available for this. Always call or seek professional help in case of any emergency or noticeable symptoms. 

Causes of Heart Attack


There are many causes and risk factors associated with Heart Attack. Here are some of the most common causes of a Heart Attack:

  • It generally happens when one or more coronary arteries are blocked due to the buildup of excess fat or cholesterol. 
  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) in which the coronary artery gets narrowed due to some plaque can also cause Heart Attack. This is one of the most common causes of Heart Attack.
  • Arrhythmias in which the heart beats either too slow or fast can also cause Heart Attack 
  • Another cause can be Cardiogenic Shock when the blood pressure suddenly drops and the heart is not able to circulate enough blood to the body.
  • Hypoxemia can also be a cause of Heart Attack. In this condition, the oxygen level in the blood becomes very low and the heart is not able to supply oxygenated blood to the body.
  • Sometimes the fluid accumulates in and around the lungs (Pulmonary Edema) can also hinder the normal functioning of the heart and cause Heart Attack
  • Sometimes the blots clot in the deep vein of legs or pelvis. This condition is known as Deep Vein Thrombosis and interrupts the normal blood flow in the vein. This can further lead to a Heart Attack.
  • Myocardial Rupture can also cause Heart Attack as in this condition the walls of the heart get damaged or rupture and interrupt the normal heart functioning.
  • Some lifestyle habits can also cause Heart Attacks such as consuming tobacco and illicit drugs. These harmful substances can cause a sudden involuntary contraction of the artery and shut down the flow of blood to the heart and from the heart.
  • Eating high-fat content foods can also increase the change of Heart Attack

Symptoms of Heart Attack


Though there are many symptoms of Heart Attack, the below symptoms are listed by the American Heart Association (AHA):

  • Discomfort, tightness, pressure, heaviness, squeezing, or pain in the chest, back, arm, or below the breastbone
  • Discomfort that goes into the neck, throat, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath

Other Heart Attack signs and symptoms include:

  • Fast, slow, irregular heartbeat
  • Severe weakness, fatigue, anxiety, dizziness
  • Indigestion, fullness, heartburn, or choking feeling
  • Vomiting, nausea, upset stomach, abdominal pain
  • Coughing, chest pain, restlessness

The symptoms can vary from person to person. However, it is always recommended to consult a professional doctor in case you notice any of the symptoms.

How to Diagnose Heart Attack


The Diagnosis of Heart Attack will be done by doctors after performing the physical examination and reviewing the patient’s medical history. There are several tests available that help in diagnosing Heart Attack. These tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): ECG or EKG is a test performed to monitor the electrical activity of heart (heart rate and rhythm). It helps to know how much heart muscle has been ruptured or damaged. It is a simple and noninvasive procedure.
  • Blood Test: Blood test is very common in all diagnosis processes and it is also performed in the diagnosis of Heart Attack or heart diseases. The different cardiac enzymes in the blood can indicate the damage of heart muscles. Usually, there are many enzymes present inside the heart cells. In case these cells are damaged, ruptured, or injured, the heart cell content including these cardiac enzymes spill into the bloodstream. Doctors perform the blood test to measure the levels of these cardiac enzymes in the blood. This will help the doctors to figure out when the Heart Attack started and the size of the Heart Attack. Also, when the heart muscles get damaged due to insufficient blood supply, the proteins inside the heart are also released. The blood tests also measure the levels of proteins in the heart, i.e. troponins. 
  • Echocardiography: It is another diagnosis method for Heart Attack. Echocardiography is an imaging test that is performed to know how the heart is pumping and what are the areas that aren’t pumping. The “echo” will tell whether any parts (septum, valve, etc.) of the heart are damaged or not.  
  • Cardiac Catheterization: Doctors may perform Cardiac Catheterization during the first hours of Heart Attack in case the patient is not responding to the medications. It will give a clear view of blocked artery so that doctors can decide the best treatment for the patient. 

These are the common processes that help to diagnose the Heart Attack and decide the optimal treatment for the patient.


Heart attack is a death of heart muscles due to less blood supply. Heart Attack is one of the serious issues that can be treated by doctors. The best way to deal with Heart Attack is by consulting doctors in case of any noticeable symptoms for a long time.

FAQ About Heart Attack

Thrombolysis procedure, also acknowledged as Thrombolytic Therapy, is a medication to eradicate unhealthy coagulation in blood vessels, improves blood flow, and prevents damaging of tissues and glands. Thrombolysis involves injection of clot-busting remedies to the place of blockage by an intravenous (IV) line or by a catheter. Thrombolysis is usually practiced as an emergency medication to eradicate blood clots that form in the blood-supplying arteries of heart and brain, which can be determined as the main reason for Heart Attacks and ischemic strokes.
This procedure is ideally conducted within one to two hours, after the incipience of symptoms of a Heart Attack, Stroke, or Pulmonary Embolism.

About 30% of people have experienced a Heart Attack more than once. The risk of having another Heart Attack is higher, especially after 3 to 5 years of the first Heart Attack.
Two Heart Attacks are not the same. Monitor your body, if you previously had a Heart Attack. The second Heart Attack may appear quite different. Both men and women can experience chest pain or tightness, although people often report quite different symptoms. Some people experience complex symptoms, while others might instinctively know it’s a Heart Attack.

The invasive cardiac test involves open or minimally-invasive surgery to recognize or treat structural or electrical deformities inside the heart structure. Non-invasive cardiac test recognizes heart problems by external imaging and Electrocardiography, without using any needles, fluids, or other instruments which are injected within the body.

The symptoms of Heart Attack differ from person to person based on the severity of the condition. The different symptoms of Heart Attack can range from smashing chest pains to shivering in the limbs or feeling breathlessness or nausea. Some people have mild pain and others may suffer from severe pain.
For some people, the first sign of a Heart Attack can be a sudden Cardiac Arrest and others may not have any symptoms. Some people feel the indications and symptoms of a Heart Attack in advance but for some, it strikes suddenly.
The most immediate warning of Heart Attack might be the aching in the chest or arms spreading to the neck, jaw, and back, or the feeling of pressure (angina) generated by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.

NSTEMI also known as non-ST elevation myocardial infarction, is a partial blockage sort of Heart Attack. NSTEMI is the most common type of Heart Attack, causing less harm to a person’s heart. STEMI Heart Attack also known as ST-elevation myocardial infarction, is a complete blockage of a coronary artery.


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