A heart attack or a myocardial infarction happens when blood flow to the heart muscle gets blocked and it doesn’t get enough oxygen. This happens due to the thickening of arteries by the deposition of plaque, which is made up of cholesterol and other substances. When this ruptures, a blood clot forms, and this is the actual cause of the heart attack.
The risk factors can be both genetic and acquired.
Inherited risk factors include hypertension, low levels of HDL cholesterol, high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, family history of heart disease, type 1 diabetes, and menopause.
Acquired risk factors are: acquired hypertension, acquired low levels of HDL cholesterol, high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, smoking, stress, alcoholism, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, high fat diet, type 2 diabetes.
The following are the warning signs of heart attacks:
- Severe pressure, tightness, squeezing pain or discomfort in the centre of the chest for more than a few minutes.
- Chest pain that increasingly worsens.
- Chest pain along with sweating or clammy hands, paleness, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or fainting, fatigue, rapid or irregular pulse.
- Pain in the shoulders, which may spread to the neck, arms, back, and jaw.
- Other symptoms include cold sweat, indigestion, abdominal pain, lightheadedness, etc. However, a heart attack may occur suddenly without any warning. On the other hand, symptoms may appear even days or weeks in advance. For instance, recurrent chest pain due to exertion (angina) is the earliest warning sign. It is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart and is relieved by rest. If you experience this often, visit a cardiologist right away.
When symptoms appear, the key is to act fast and call the emergency number. The goal is to relieve pain, prevent the heart muscle from ceasing to function, and ultimately prevent death.
Some treatment methods in the emergency ward include:
- Intravenous therapy using nitroglycerin and morphine.
- Monitoring heart and other vital signs.
- Pain medicine to decrease discomfort thereby decreasing the workload and oxygen demand of the heart.
- Beta-blockers and other cardiac medicine to promote blood flow to the heart, decrease heart rate and blood pressure.
- Oxygen therapy to increase the supply of oxygen to the damaged heart muscle.
- Aspirin to reduce heart damage by preventing blood clots.
Although it is impossible to predict when an attack may occur, it is ideal to keep your lifestyle in check and take medications if you know you’re at risk.
Another important factor is lifestyle. Avoid substance abuse, exercise regularly, manage stress levels and keep physiological causes of heart attacks (such as high blood pressure and cholesterol) under control. Maintain a healthy diet and practice a healthy lifestyle.
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