A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction. If the blood supply to the heart is severely reduced or completely blocked, heart muscle cells may not receive enough oxygen and begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart. This damage can cause irregular heart rhythms or even sudden cardiac arrest or stopping of the heart beat. Death can result. Coronary artery disease is the chief underlying cause of a heart attack. A less common cause of a heart attack is a severe spasm of a coronary artery that reduces the blood supply to the heart.
When a person is having a heart attack, emergency care is needed that may include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), electrical shock (called defibrillation), and other advanced emergency medical care. Emergency medical personnel and doctors can quickly perform emergency treatment and transport the person to the hospital. Bystanders might also be trained to perform CPR and to use an automated external defibrillator, if one is available, until emergency medical personnel arrive. Once at the hospital, doctors can perform several tests to quickly determine if the person is having or has had a heart attack and the best course of action to restore blood flow.
Because a heart attack is a medical emergency, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and to act immediately by calling 9-1-1. A person's chance of surviving a heart attack is increased the sooner emergency treatment is administered.
A heart attack survivor may have a damaged heart that affects the heart rhythm, pumping action, and blood circulation. This puts heart attack victims at greater risk of having another heart attack or other events such as a stroke, kidney problems, and peripheral arterial problems. Cardiac rehabilitation is usually recommended for heart attack survivors after the emergency event has stabilized. Cardiac rehabilitation guides the patient to make changes that can help improve cardiovascular fitness and quality of life. These changes may include dietary changes, physical activity, smoking cessation, and other issues such as medication schedules and stress management. Heart attack survivors should seek their doctor's advice about daily activities such as returning to work, driving, physical and sexual activity, and air travel.