Heart attacks are frightening. Even if it does not kill us, it scares us for life and reduces our quality of life. But why do they happen?
Heart attacks result from loss of blood supply to the cardiac muscles. Like any other part of our body, they need oxygen for their survival. So when the arteries carrying blood to the heart are narrowed by a build-up of cholesterol or other substances, the muscles are starved of their nutrients and gradually weaken. This is known as ischemia.
Eventually, the muscles die entirely, and the blood supply is not restored, resulting in an infarction that manifests as a heart attack.
Heart attack is a global killer. In Bangladesh, the risk of death from cardiovascular disease is about 15 per cent and is rising. The worrying thing is, in the last decade, heart attacks have become increasingly common in young men and women. A lot of promising lives were lost suddenly due to this.
The commonest symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. Generally, it starts off as a discomfort in the middle of the chest. This can last for some time, then disappear and reappear after a short interval. Patients may feel squeezing, something compressing or a feeling of heaviness in the chest.
The pain of a heart attack does not necessarily appear in the chest. It could be indicated by a sudden pain in one or both arms, neck, back or even jaw. There may be breathlessness, cold sweat, lightheadedness or nausea as well.
There may be some differences in heart attack symptoms between men and women. Chest pain is common for both, but women may experience more breathlessness, back or jaw pain, and nausea/vomiting than men.
The most alarming thing about a heart attack is that we may not even know it is a heart attack. This silent heart attack is responsible for almost half of heart attacks. It is more likely in men than in women, and the symptoms are less severe than in a regular heart attack. But the consequences are the same.
Dr Jorge Plutzky of Brigham and Women's Hospital of Harvard said that silent heart attack symptoms are both mild and breath, as they are often considered a less severe problem. Therefore, people ignore them until the situation becomes critical. He explained that patients who experience silent heart attacks might appear completely normal during and after the attack and thus miss the warning.
A silent heart attack patient may feel exhausted and breathless, sometimes without any chest discomfort. There may be dizziness, and sometimes the patient even loses consciousness temporarily. A few may even experience sweating with nausea and vomiting.
Knowing the warning signs of heart attack is important because it can help detect the danger so we can seek medical help as early as possible. If we suspect someone is having a heart attack and that someone could be us, too, we must not wait and immediately seek help. This can save a life that may be your own.