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Heart Attack

What Are Heart Attacks?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in New Mexico. Heart disease includes conditions that affect the normal structure and function of the heart and its valves and vessels. When blood flow to the heart is reduced, it causes coronary artery disease, which is a type of heart disease.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack, also called myocardial infarction (MI). This happens when a part of the heart muscle doesn't get enough blood. Blood carries carrying vital oxygen and nutrients to the heart. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle, which is why it is so important to call 911 right away if you have symptoms of a heart attack.

Learn About Heart Attacks

Symptoms of a heart attack in women may be different from those in men.

The major symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms.

Why important?

It has been estimated that every 40 seconds a person in America has a heart attack. Among Americans over 20 years of age, new and recurrent heart attacks in both men and women occurred in 3.7% of the U.S. population, or 7,900,000 (4.9 million men and 3.0 million women). Corresponding prevalence by race and ethnicity is 5.4% for white men, 2.5% for white women, 3.9% for black men, and 3.3% for black women.

What are the risk factors?

You are at risk if you have certain inherited genetic factors that cannot be changed but that can be improved with lifestyle changes, such as a healthful diet and exercise and working with a doctor to manage risks with medications or cardiac rehabilitation to prevent further attacks if you have already had a heart attack. Other, modifiable risk factors are caused by chosen activities but can be improved with lifestyle changes.

Examples of those at risk from inherited or non-modifiable factors include:

  • People with inherited hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • People with inherited low levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol.
  • People with a family history of heart disease (especially with onset before age 55).
  • People with diabetes (type 1 or type 2).
  • Aging men and women. Men are at risk at an earlier age than women but after the onset of menopause, women are equally at risk.

Examples of modifiable risk factors include:

  • Tobacco smoking
  • Acquired hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Acquired low levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) blood cholesterol
  • High stress levels
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle (i.e., not much exercise)
  • Being overweight by 30 percent or more.

Environmental risk factors being investigated include air pollution, which has been reported to increase the risk of hospitalization for heart attack. One form of air pollution is particulate matter (PM) such as particles from dust storms, burning fuels from vehicles, burning coal from power plants, and wildfire smoke.

Health Tips

  • Take charge of your medical conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • See your health care provider as the first step in making changes. He or she can determine if you have genetic or inherited risk factors that cannot be changed, but that can be managed and can help you develop a management plan.
  • The CDC recommends having your cholesterol blood levels checked at least every 4 to 6 years and more often if you have already been diagnosed with, or have a family history of, high cholesterol.
  • If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully. Talk to your health care provider about treatment options.
  • Take medications to treat high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes as directed. Never stop taking medications without first talking to your provider or pharmacist.
A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart attack.