Acute Myocardial Infarction

Written by Brindles Lee Macon and Winnie Yu | Published on August 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

In the movies, the man struck by a heart attack clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In reality, a heart attack may be as subtle as discomfort in the upper body. Acute myocardial infarction, the medical name for a heart attack, refers to a heart condition that is caused when the blood circulation or flow is abruptly cut off from the heart. The break in circulation lasts long enough to cause tissue damage or death.

What Causes Acute Myocardial Infarction?

Your heart is the main organ in your cardiovascular system, which includes different types of blood vessels. Some of the most important vessels in your body are the coronary arteries. They take blood, rich in oxygen, to every location in your body. When arteries become blocked or restricted by buildup, they can cause blood flow to stop or decrease significantly. Several factors may cause a heart attack:

Bad Cholesterol

Bad cholesterol, also called low-density lipoprotein (LDL), is one of the leading problems that cause blockage. Cholesterol is a colorless substance found in the food you eat as well as produced naturally in your body. Not all cholesterol is bad, but LDL cholesterol can stick to the walls of your arteries and produce plaque. Plaque is a hard matter that blocks blood flow in the arteries. Blood platelets, which help blood to clot, may stick to the plaque and build up over time.

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats (found mostly in meat) may contribute to the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. Saturated fat may lead to acute myocardial infarction by increasing the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood system and reducing your good HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Trans Fat

Another type of fat that contributes to clogged arteries is trans fat. This type of fatty substance is found in meat and certain oils. It may decrease your good cholesterol levels and increase the bad.

Who Is at Risk for Acute Myocardial Infarction?

Certain risk factors may make you susceptible for heart attack.

High Blood Pressure

Your doctor may be concerned if you have high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). As the numbers increase, so does your risk for heart problems.

High Triglyceride and Cholesterol

Having elevated cholesterol levels puts you at risk for acute myocardial infarction. If you have high cholesterol in your blood, you may want to find ways to lower it.

Triglycerides are a type of fat that clog up your arteries. This fatty substance is found in food. After you eat, triglycerides travel through your blood until it is stored in your body. Generally, it is stored in your fat cells. Some of it may stay in your arteries and cause problems with your heart.

Obesity

Being overweight may increase your chances for a heart attack.

Diabetes or High Blood Sugar

Diabetes raises blood sugar levels, which may damage blood vessels and nerves. The damage may cause coronary heart disease, a serious health condition that can trigger heart attacks in some people.

Smoking

Smoking tobacco products increases your risk for heart attack. It may also lead to other cardiovascular conditions and disease.

Other risk factors include not exercising, eating an unhealthy diet and being under too much stress.

Recognizing the Signs of an Acute Myocardial Infarction

The symptoms of heart attack are:

  • anxiety
  • cough
  • dizziness
  • fast heart rate
  • heaviness in or across the chest
  • pain in the chest, back, jaw, and other areas of the upper body
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • vomiting

Diagnosing a Heart Attack

If your doctor suspects you had a heart attack, he or she may run several tests to make a correct diagnosis. The doctor may listen to your heart to check for irregularities in the way it sounds and how fast it beats. He or she may take your blood pressure to see if it is higher than it should be.

Other diagnostic methods include:

  • troponin test – to check for heart damage
  • electrocardiogram – to measure the heart’s electrical activity
  • stress test – to check how your heart reacts to certain situations, such as exercise

Treating Acute Myocardial Infarction

Most treatments begin in the emergency room since heart attacks require immediate treatment. A procedure called angioplasty may be used to unblock the arteries upon arriving in the emergency room. Blood thinners may be given to dissolve or break up the blood clots in the arteries.

What Is to Be Expected in the Long Term?

Getting well after a heart attack depends on the extent of damage to your heart’s muscle and how quickly you receive immediately emergency care. The sooner you are treated, the more likely you are to recover. You may be required to take medications and undergo a cardiac rehab program to learn healthy lifestyle strategies and slowly regain your strength.

Prevention

You can help reduce your chances of acute myocardial infarction by eating foods low in LDL cholesterol and reducing your fat intake. Exercise several times a week to improve your cardiovascular health. However, speak with a doctor prior to going on any exercise plan. If you smoke, consider quitting. It can improve your heart and lung health as well.

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