A heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI) is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you suspect a heart attack.
A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and can be life threatening.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- chest pain – a feeling of pressure, heaviness, tightness or squeezing across your chest
- pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is spreading from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- shortness of breath
- feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- an overwhelming feeling of anxiety (similar to a panic attack)
- coughing or wheezing
The chest pain is often severe, but some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion.
While the most common symptom in both men and women is chest pain, women are more likely to have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling or being sick and back or jaw pain.
An NSTEMI can be less serious than an STEMI because the supply of blood to the heart may be only partially, rather than completely, blocked. As a result, a smaller section of the heart may be damaged. However, an NSTEMI is still regarded as a serious medical emergency. Without treatment, it can progress to serious heart damage or STEMI.
An STEMI is the most serious type of heart attack where there is a long interruption to the blood supply. This is caused by a total blockage of the coronary artery, which can cause extensive damage to a large area of the heart. An STEMI is what most people think of when they hear the term “heart attack”.
Coronary angioplasty with stenting (also known as percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI) is a treatment that helps improve the blood supply to your heart. Many people find they can do more after the procedure and their symptoms, such as chest pain and breathlessness, get better. Most people can return to their normal lives within a few weeks after having a coronary angioplasty with stents.
Coronary angiography can help determine whether there is a blockage or narrowing in the coronary arteries and, if so, to locate the exact place of the blockage or narrowing. The test involves inserting a thin tube (catheter), into one of the blood vessels in your groin or arm. The catheter is guided into your coronary arteries using X-rays.
A special fluid, called a contrast agent, is pumped through the catheter. This fluid can be seen on X-rays and studying how it flows around and through your heart can help locate the site of any blockage or narrowing. This helps a doctor who specialises in heart conditions (cardiologist) decide the best treatment for you.
If you experience a high-risk heart attack, the preferred treatment in the UK is emergency or primary PCI (also known as primary angioplasty) to restore blood flow to the heart as soon as possible to stop further damage.
Once you arrive at the hospital cath lab, a fine tube, known as a catheter, is passed to your heart arteries under local anaesthetic to find out where the blockage is. Then a balloon and wire mesh ‘stent’ will be used to open up the blockage and restore blood flow to your heart muscle. The catheter can be inserted from either a blood vessel in your groin (femoral artery) or your wrist (radial artery). The use of the wrist is associated with fewer complications including reduced bleeding and is now the most usual access point for the procedure.
Once a balloon has restored blood flow, a stent (a tiny scaffold which helps hold open the artery) is then put in place and will remain there. Other technological advances have been made, and most stents are now ‘drug eluting’, containing specific drugs which minimise the risk of the artery re-narrowing due to scar tissue growing around the stent as the artery heals.
Heart surgery is an operation that helps to mend problems with the heart and treat heart disease. It aims to relieve the symptoms of heart disease and improve your quality of life.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is a bulge or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and tummy.
Coronary artery bypass surgery, also known as heart bypass surgery, is a procedure that treats coronary heart disease. Coronary bypass surgery is a type of surgery where the chest is opened and surgery is performed on the heart. It’s used to bypass – or ‘get around’ – the narrowed or blocked sections of your coronary arteries.
Day-of-Surgery Admission (DOSA)
Day of surgery admission (DOSA) describes the process whereby patients are admitted to hospital and have surgery, on the same day.
There are four valves in your heart. Each valve makes sure blood flows through the heart in the correct way. When there’s an issue with one or more of the valves, surgery is an option to fix them.