Heart attacks affect more than a million Americans each year. Many people ignore initial symptoms, delaying life-saving medical treatment. The following will help you understand the risks and early warning signs of a heart attack.
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle is deprived of blood and oxygen. The most frequent cause of a heart attack is a blockage in one or more of the arteries in the heart. The blockage is usually the result of a buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries.
Although rare, other causes of heart attacks include:
- A sudden spasm in a coronary artery that stops blood flow to the heart.
- A tear in a coronary artery called a dissection.
Heart Attack Risk Factors
Many risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks are related to lifestyle. The following factors are closely associated with a higher risk of heart attacks:
- Other health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Family history
Heart Attacks and Senior Health
Heart attacks are most common in men over 45 and women over 55. Elderly women are at greater risk of dying from a heart attack since the warning signs often go unrecognized.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person. In many cases, the individual will deny symptoms because they do not want to alarm others unnecessarily. The most common symptoms include:
- Pain, pressure, or tightness in the chest or arms. This can spread to the back, neck, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or abdominal pain similar to heartburn
Women are less likely to experience the chest pain typically associated with a heart attack. Women are more likely to experience pain in the jaw or back. Many women having a heart attack experience shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and fatigue. These symptoms are often confused with other illnesses such as the flu or hormonal changes associated with menopause.
Heart Attack Prevention
You can reduce your risk of heart attack by adopting a healthy lifestyle:
- Exercise daily
- Eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight
You should also work closely with your doctor to manage other health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that can increase your chances of a heart attack.