HEART ATTACK: Don’t ignore the Warning Signals

Heart attacks need not be fatal, if only you attend to your body's signals and/or warnings in time

Heart attackIt’s a common “spectacle” in movies. You know what it is, when you see it: a heart attack.

  • The mouth contorts
  • The face turns upwards
  • The eyes roll and blink
  • The body turns this way or that
  • The hand holds on to the chest, and grips a fistful of shirt/cloth material.
  • The person sinks to the floor, limbs askew.
  • Dead.

In real life, though, it’s sometimes difficult even for a doctor to recognise a heart attack from a bad bout of indigestion – without an electrocardiogram [ECG].


A heart attack generally occurs when there is blockage to the blood flow to the heart — yes, the heart muscles themselves have to be provided with blood! – resulting in the heart not receiving oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Sometimes, this happens when fatty deposits [cholesterol] have lined the big coronary arteries. As they build up, they progressively narrow the arteries. When there’s a decreased flow of blood to the heart, the heart muscle may get damaged, sometimes permanently, if not treated.

A heart attack most often results when a blood clot in a narrowed artery blocks the flow of blood to a part of the heart muscle. Doctors call this coronary thrombosis, coronary occlusion, or myocardial infarction.

When a heart attack occurs, the dying part of the heart may trigger electrical activity that causes ventricular fibrillation, or random twitching that replaces the smooth, measured contractions of the heart muscle.

Trained medical professionals can get the heart beating again by using electrical shock and/or drugs. That is, if the patient is brought to the hospital in quick time and/or paramedics reach the person likewise.

Seek medical help quickly

Quite often, the symptoms of a possible heart attack are innocent: an uncomfortable pressure, like “gas,” in the stomach, or a sense of fullness, or nausea. They may be unrelated. Sometimes, one may present with a terrible, squeezing pain in the centre of the chest that may spread to the shoulders, neck, arms, or even the jaw.

The discomfort may last for several minutes, or longer. Sweating [enough to get drenched], dizziness, fainting, nausea, a feeling of severe indigestion, or shortness of breath may occur – all these are signs of a heart attack.

Strangely, a “silent” heart attack may have no symptom at all. Some people experience nothing more than a mild backache.

But, typically, any symptom that lasts for at least 20 minutes and leaves behind an uncomfortable, insecure feeling is a warning call.

Patients have described it as “unending, gasping bouts of coughing, lightheadedness, a sense of fainting, or feeling of impending doom.”

Don’t take it lightly

People often take symptoms lightly. It always happens to others, “It can’t be happening to me,” is a big blunder. Even when overwhelmed by crushing pain, no one thinks that s/he might be having a heart attack.

If you’ve done any sudden exertion – sprinted to catch a bus, ran up the stairs, pushed a cupboard – or, if you’ve not eaten anything that would upset your tummy – and, if you’re feeling strange, sweaty, or weak, be warned!

This is not all. Do you have a family history of sudden natural deaths? Do you rarely get out of the chair at work? Are you fond of parathas, jalebis, pizzas?

Don’t wait, say cardiologists, for signals to get red!

Rush to the hospital

Should you feel any or all of the symptoms cited, and have reason to suspect that it isn’t a feeling that’s going away, get someone to take you to the hospital. Quickly.

  • In the meantime, take an aspirin with small sips of water.
  • Lie on your side.
  • Reduce the demands on the heart
  • If there’s someone who can “feel” your pulse, have it recorded. Goes the myth, cough. hard. It may help to dislodge the troublemaking clot. The truth is – the idea is not established.

More important: get to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible, and not to a nearby dispensary, or a nursing home, because they aren’t always equipped to deal with heart emergencies.

The best thing to do is – get help in a flash.

Heart attacks can be fatal – but, they need not be so, if only you attend to your body’s signals and/or warnings in time.

A Deadly Game

The problem with heart disease is its slow, silent progression. It presents no apparent early symptom, or sign. The worst part — it takes years for the condition to manifest obvious symptoms or distress. This makes diagnosis more than a problem confounded.

As you may quite well know, the most common form of heart disease is atherosclerosis. In other words, the hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is caused by a host of complex factors. Some experts say that homocysteine is, perhaps, the biggest offender, not to speak of excess cholesterol. The final outcome is plaque formation which accumulates on the inside of the arterial walls and blocks blood flow.

Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the blood. Epidemiological studies have shown that excess homocysteine is related to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.

The plaque, which is called atheroma in medical parlance, is for the most part composed of heavy metals, fibrous tissue, cholesterol and calcium. This is, of course, not the dietary or prescribed supplemental calcium we take.

When the plaque build-up becomes progressively thick, the width within the arteries becomes narrow. This leads to decreased blood flow, or circulation, through the whole body, including the heart and brain.

Do you know the significance of plaque-induced dangers? To cull a heart transplant study, conducted in the US, researchers who evaluated 40-50 year-old donors found blockages in 26 of the 36 subjects. In actual terms, this translates to more than 70 per cent of the donors. Now, picture this – what would be the percentage of people in their 50s, 60s or older, having plaque build-up and related problems? You guess!

When the plaque build-up becomes severe, the result is heart attack, stroke, senility, and possible amputation of the extremities.

Put simply, heart attacks are caused by blood clots in the coronary arteries. Strokes are brought on by the blockage, or rupture, of a blood vessel in the brain.

Team CW


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