Timeline of a Heart Attack

In the next 40 seconds, someone in America will have a heart attack. That’s more than 800,000 heart attacks each year. If you or a loved one thinks you are having a heart attack, Hometown Hospital is ready 24/7 to provide life-saving care when every second counts. Here’s a timeline of what happens during a typical heart attack.

Years in the Making
Heart attacks don’t happen overnight. They can take years to develop. An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise can cause too much fat and cholesterol to build up in your bloodstream. Over the years these bad habits often combined with genetic factors and can cause plaque to form inside the blood vessels. Plaque is a harmful substance that narrows the blood vessels, reducing the blood flow to all parts of your body, including your heart.

Symptoms Begin
When a person’s coronary arteries become fully or nearly constricted a heart attack occurs. Chest pain is the most common symptom, sometimes accompanied by pain that radiates to an arm, neck, jaw or back as well as nausea, vomiting, sweating and heart palpitations. People describe the sensation as an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness in the chest. The discomfort lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. However, one in three people who have a heart attack do not experience chest pain.

The Damage Starts
During a heart attack, damage to the heart can occur fairly quickly. Without oxygen the heart starts to die, which can cause permanent scarring. The amount of damage depends on the size of the blockage, where the blockage occurs in the heart, and how quickly medical help arrives. Any damage to the heart releases a proteins called troponin T and troponin I into the bloodstream. If you’re smart enough to go to an ER, a blood test will be performed immediately to check for elevated levels of troponin to confirm if your chest pain is indeed a heart attack.

When your heart is not functioning normally your vital organs—brain, lungs, kidneys and liver—will be damaged and eventually start to shut down. The more severe the heart attack the faster this occurs. Blood pressure drops. Brain cells start to die, resulting in vision loss, impaired movement, slurred speech, unconsciousness and even cardiac arrest, a quickly fatal condition when the heart stops beating altogether. Heart attacks in which an artery is completely blocked are particularly dangerous. About two out of five heart attacks fall into this category.

Your Most Critical Decision
The survival rate for people hospitalized with a heart attack is higher than 90 percent. If you or a loved one is experiencing the signs of a heart attack call 911. Even if you’re not sure it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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