What Is a Heart Attack?
Heart attack or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) occur most often as a result of a condition called coronary artery disease(CAD), a fatty material called plaque builds up over many years on the inside walls of the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart). Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture, causing a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the part of the heart muscle fed by the artery.
During a heart attack, if the blockage in the coronary artery isn’t treated quickly, the heart muscle will begin to die and be replaced by scar tissue. This heart damage may not be obvious, or it may cause severe or long-lasting problems. Severe problems linked to heart attack can include heart failure and life-threatening arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood throughout the body.
Misdiagnosis of a Heart Attack:
The classic fatal misdiagnosis of heart attack is a person believing that their chest pain is simply heartburn (i.e., reflux, indigestion, Gastro esophageal Reflux Disease GERD, etc.), and failing to seek medical attention for what turns out to be a heart attack. Similarly, people can mistakenly believe they have angina, when it is actually a heart attack.
However, many cases of heart attack go undiagnosed even in the emergency department. This diagnostic error in the ER makes AMI the single largest malpractice litigation-related medical condition. Because the typical profile for AMI in older men (usually over 45), AMI is often under diagnosed in women or younger adults. In any age patients, AMI can have a variety of presentations, and diagnostic tests such as an EKG may still be normal. Misdiagnoses of AMI include gastrointestinal disorders (26% of misdiagnoses), musculoskeletal pain (21%), or respiratory ailments such as pneumonia or bronchitis (6%).
On the other hand, there are also less serious disorders that are mistakenly believed to be heart attack. A common example are people having a panic attack (anxiety attack) and will rush to emergency in the belief they are dying from a heart attack. There are many other causes of chest pain, many of them not as serious (e.g. heartburn, GERD, gastric reflux, etc.). Nevertheless, it is important not to take chances, and seek immediate emergency medical attention for chest pain, or any possible heart attack or similar symptoms.
Warning signs of a heart attack
The American Heart Association and other medical experts say the body likely will send one or more of these warning signals of a heart attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. The pain may be mild to intense. It may feel like pressure, tightness, burning, or heavy weight. It may be located in the chest, upper abdomen, neck, jaw, or inside the arms or shoulders.
- Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
- Anxiety, nervousness and/or cold, sweaty skin.
- Paleness or pallor.
- Increased or irregular heart rate.
- Feeling of impending doom.
Not all of these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and return. If some occur, get help fast. IF YOU NOTICE ONE OR MORE OF THESE SIGNS IN YOURSELF OR OTHERS, DON’T WAIT. CALL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES (9-1-1) RIGHT AWAY! In the event of cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing or pulse), call 9-1-1 and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.