What Is Acute Myocardial Infarction?
Acute myocardial infarction is the medical name for a heart
attack. A heart attack is a life-threatening condition that occurs when blood
flow to the heart is abruptly cut off, causing tissue damage. This is usually
the result of a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries. A blockage
can develop due to a buildup of plaque, a substance mostly made of fat,
cholesterol, and cellular waste products.
Call 911 right away if you think that you or someone you know may
be having a heart attack.
What Are the Symptoms of Acute Myocardial Infarction?
While the classic symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain and
shortness of breath, the symptoms can be quite varied. The most common symptoms
of a heart attack include:
- pressure or tightness in the chest
- pain in the chest, back, jaw, and other areas of
the upper body that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes
- shortness of breath
- a cough
- a fast heart rate
It’s important to note that not all people who have heart attacks
experience the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms. Chest pain is
the most commonly reported symptom among both women and men. However, women are
more likely than men to have:
- shortness of breath
- jaw pain
- upper back pain
In fact, some women who have had a heart attack report that their
symptoms felt like the symptoms of the flu.
What Causes Acute Myocardial Infarction?
Your heart is the main organ in your cardiovascular system, which
also includes different types of blood vessels. Some of the most important
vessels are the coronary arteries. They take oxygen-rich blood to all of the
organs in your body, including your heart. When these arteries become blocked
or narrowed due to a buildup of plaque, the blood flow to your heart can
decrease significantly or stop completely. This can cause a heart attack.
Several factors may lead to a blockage in the coronary arteries.
Bad cholesterol, also called low-density lipoprotein (LDL), is
one of the leading causes of a blockage in the arteries. Cholesterol is a
colorless substance that’s found in the food you eat. Your body also makes it
naturally. Not all cholesterol is bad, but LDL cholesterol can stick to the
walls of your arteries and produce plaque. Plaque is a hard substance that
blocks blood flow in the arteries. Blood platelets, which help the blood to
clot, may stick to the plaque and build up over time.
Saturated fats may also contribute to the buildup of plaque in
the coronary arteries. Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and dairy
products, including beef, butter, and cheese. These fats may lead to an
arterial blockage by increasing the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood
system and reducing the amount of good cholesterol.
Another type of fat that contributes to clogged arteries is trans
fat, or hydrogenated fat. Trans fat is usually artificially produced and can be
found in a variety of processed foods. Trans fat is typically listed on food
labels as hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil.
Who Is at Risk for Acute Myocardial Infarction?
Certain factors may increase your risk of having a heart attack.
High Blood Pressure
You’re at greater risk for heart attack if you have high blood
pressure. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) depending
on your age. As the numbers increase, so does your risk of developing heart
problems. Having high blood pressure damages your arteries and accelerates the
buildup of plaque.
High Cholesterol Levels
Having high levels of cholesterol in your blood puts you at risk
for acute myocardial infarction. You may be able to lower your cholesterol by
making changes to your diet or by taking certain medications called statins.
High Triglyceride Levels
High triglyceride levels also increase your risk for having a
heart attack. Triglycerides are a type of fat that clog up your arteries. Triglycerides
from the food you eat travel through your blood until they’re stored in your
body, typically in your fat cells. However, some triglycerides may remain in
your arteries and contribute to the buildup of plaque.
Diabetes and High Blood Sugar Levels
a condition that causes blood sugar, or glucose, levels to rise. High blood
sugar levels can damage blood vessels and eventually lead to coronary
artery disease. This is a serious health condition that can trigger heart
attacks in some people.
Your chances of having a heart attack are higher if you’re very
overweight. Obesity is associated with various conditions that increase the
risk of heart attack, including:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol levels
- high triglyceride levels
Smoking tobacco products increases your risk for heart attack. It
may also lead to other cardiovascular conditions and diseases.
The risk of having a heart attack increases with age. Men are at
a higher risk of a heart attack after age 45, and women are at a higher risk of
a heart attack after age 55.
You’re more likely to have a heart attack if you have a family
history of early heart disease. Your risk is especially high if you have male
family members who developed heart disease before age 55 or if you have female
family members who developed heart disease before age 65.
Other factors that can increase your risk for heart attack include:
- a lack of exercise
- the use of certain illegal drugs, including
cocaine and amphetamines
- a history of preeclampsia, or high
blood pressure during pregnancy
How Is Acute Myocardial Infarction Diagnosed?
To determine whether you’ve had a heart attack, your doctor will
listen to your heart to check for irregularities in your heartbeat. They may measure
your blood pressure as well. Your doctor will also run a number of different
tests if they suspect that you’ve had a heart attack. An electrocardiogram
(EKG) may be done to measure your heart’s electrical activity. Blood tests
can also be used to check for proteins that are associated with heart damage, such
Other diagnostic tests include:
- a stress test to see how your heart responds to
certain situations, such as exercise
- an angiogram with coronary catheterization to
look for areas of blockage in your arteries
- an echocardiogram to
help identify areas of your heart that aren’t working properly
How Is Acute Myocardial Infarction Treated?
Heart attacks require immediate treatment, so most treatments
begin in the emergency room. A surgical procedure called angioplasty
may be used to unblock the arteries that supply blood to the heart. During an
angioplasty, your surgeon will insert a long, thin tube called a catheter
through your artery to reach the blockage. They will then inflate a small
balloon attached to the catheter in order to reopen the artery, allowing blood
flow to resume. Your surgeon may also place a small, mesh tube called a stent
at the site of the blockage. The stent can prevent the artery from closing
Your doctor may also want to perform a coronary artery
bypass graft (CABG) in some cases. In this procedure, your surgeon will
reroute your veins and arteries so the blood can flow around the blockage. A
CABG is sometimes done immediately after a heart attack. In most cases,
however, it’s performed several days after the incident so your heart has time
A number of different medications can also be used to treat a
- Blood thinners, such as aspirin,
are often used to break up blood clots and improve blood flow through narrowed
- Thrombolytics are often used to dissolve clots.
- Antiplatelet drugs, such as clopidogrel,
can be used to prevent new clots from forming and existing clots from growing.
can be used to widen your blood vessels.
- Beta-blockers lower your blood pressure and
relax your heart muscle. This can help limit the severity of damage to your
- ACE inhibitors can also be used to lower blood
pressure and decrease stress on the heart.
- Pain relievers may be used to reduce any discomfort
you may feel.
What Can Be Expected After Treatment?
Your chances of recovering from a heart attack depend on how much
damage there is to your heart and how quickly you receive emergency care. The
sooner you receive treatment, the more likely you are to survive. However, if
there’s substantial damage to your heart muscle, your heart may be unable to
pump an adequate amount of blood throughout your body. This can lead to heart failure. Heart
damage also increases your risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms, or
arrhythmias. Your risk of having another heart attack will be higher as well.
Many people who’ve had heart attacks experience anxiety and
depression. It’s important to speak with your doctor about your concerns during
recovery. It may also be beneficial to join a support group or to speak with a
counselor about what you’re going through.
Most people are able to resume their normal activities after a
heart attack. However, you’ll need to ease back into any intense physical activity.
Your doctor will help you develop a specific plan for recovery. You may be
required to take medications or undergo a cardiac rehabilitation program. This
type of program can help you slowly regain your strength, teach you about
healthy lifestyle changes, and guide you through treatment.
How Can Acute Myocardial Infarction Be Prevented?
There are many steps you can take to prevent a heart attack, even
if you’ve had one before.
One way to lower your risk is to eat a heart-healthy diet. This
diet should largely consist of:
- whole grains
- lean protein
You should also reduce the amount of the following in your diet:
- saturated fat
- trans fat
This is especially important for people with diabetes, high blood
pressure, and high cholesterol.
Exercising several times a week will also improve your cardiovascular
health. If you’ve had a heart attack recently, you should speak with your doctor
before starting a new exercise plan.
It’s also important to stop smoking if you smoke. Quitting
smoking will significantly lower your risk of a heart attack and improve both your
heart and lung health. You should also avoid being around secondhand smoke.