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​​​​​​​If you, or someone you know, a​re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack,
call 9-1-1 immediately.

​A heart attack (called a myocardial infarction in medical terms) is damage to the
heart muscle that results from a prolonged lack of blood flow to the heart. Heart attacks are caused by atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque along the walls of the arteries that deliver blood to your heart (the coronary arteries). Most frequently, the plaque surface cracks or wears away, causing a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque, which blocks the artery and prevents blood from reaching a portion of your heart.

Most heart attacks happen suddenly (called acute), and people who suffer acute heart attacks need immediate medical attention. Physicians use the phrase "time is muscle" because after 15 to 20 minutes without oxygen, tissue damage and death (infarction) begins to occur. Most damage from heart attacks occurs in the first two to three hours of onset. The longer blood flow to the heart is blocked, the more heart muscle will die. Quickly clearing the blockage is therefore critical, and often shortly after a heart attack is diagnosed, patients undergo angioplasty and stenting. In angioplasty and stenting, a balloon-tipped catheter is threaded through the blood vessels to the site of the blockage. Once in place, the balloon is inflated and deflated, flattening the blockage against the walls of the artery, restoring blood flow. A stent, a metal-mesh tube, is placed at the site of the newly cleared blockage. It acts as a form of scaffolding to make sure the artery remains open.

Because prompt medical attention is essential, it is important to know and recognize the symptoms of a heart attack​:

  • Chest discomfort or chest pain
  • Discomfort or pain in other areas of the upper body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or nausea

Women sometimes experience different symptoms. Women may have chest pain, but more often they report nausea, indigestion, back pain, or pain in one or both shoulders, arm, neck or jaw (mimicking toothache), dizziness, fatigue, or numbness in the left shoulder and arm.

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