A heart attack happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart can't get oxygen. If blood flow isn't restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die.
Heart attacks are a leading killer of both men and women in the United States. The good news is that excellent treatments are available for heart attacks. These treatments can save lives and prevent disabilities.
Heart attack treatment works best when it's given right after symptoms occur. If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack (even if you're not fully sure), call
Heart attacks most often occur as a result of coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease. CHD is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque (plak) builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart.
When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis
Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open) inside of an artery. This causes a blood clot to form on the plaque's surface. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery.
If the blockage isn't treated quickly, the portion of heart muscle fed by the artery begins to die. Healthy heart tissue is replaced with scar tissue. This heart damage may not be obvious, or it may cause severe or long-lasting problems.
A less common cause of heart attack is a severe spasm (tightening) of a coronary artery. The spasm cuts off blood flow through the artery. Spasms can occur in coronary arteries that aren't affected by atherosclerosis.
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats. Ventricular fibrillation is a life-threatening arrhythmia that can cause death if not treated right away.
Acting fast at the first sign of heart attack symptoms can save your life and limit damage to your heart. Treatment works best when it's given right after symptoms occur.
Many people aren't sure what's wrong when they are having symptoms of a heart attack. Some of the most common warning symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women are:
Other possible symptoms of a heart attack include:
Not all heart attacks begin with the sudden, crushing chest pain that often is shown on TV or in the movies, or other common symptoms such as chest discomfort. The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Some people can have few symptoms and are surprised to learn they've had a heart attack. If you've already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one.
Quick Action Can Save Your Life: Call 9–1–1
If you think you or someone else may be having heart attack symptoms or a heart attack, don't ignore it or feel embarrassed to call for help. Call 9–1–1 for emergency medical care. Acting fast can save your life.
Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room. Take a nitroglycerin pill if your doctor has prescribed this type of treatment.
Each year, close to 1 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and many of them die. CHD, which often results in heart attacks, is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States.
Many more people could survive or recover better from heart attacks if they got help faster. Of the people who die from heart attacks, about half die within an hour of the first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.
All of Our Stories Are Red: Jennifer's Story
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Heart Attack, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
October 24, 2013
NIH and CDC launch registry for sudden death in the young
A registry of deaths in young people from conditions such as heart disease and epilepsy is being created to help researchers define the scope of the problem and set future research priorities. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating to create the Sudden Death in the Young Registry.
When a heart attack happens, any delays in treatment can be deadly.
Knowing the warning symptoms of a heart attack and how to take action can save your life or someone else’s.
The NHLBI has created a new series of informative, easy-to-read heart attack materials to help the public better understand the facts about heart attacks and how to act fast to save a life.
Click the links to download or order the NHLBI's new heart attack materials:
“Don’t Take a Chance With a Heart Attack: Know the Facts and Act Fast” (also available in Spanish)
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.