Symptoms: Take Immediate Action

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but many heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Don't wait too long before getting help. Signs of a heart attack:

What to do

Quick treatment minimizes heart muscle damage and can save your life!

Clinical Definition

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood through a coronary artery is completely blocked. Most of the time, a heart attack causes permanent damage to your heart muscle, which is why it's also called a myocardial infarction or MI. Myocardial means "heart muscle," and infarction means "tissue death".

Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease (CAD), the buildup of a material called plaque in the coronary arteries. This buildup can eventually block the flow of blood in the artery, or cause blood clots that block the artery. A less common cause of heart attack is a spasm in the artery.

angina_web
Heart attack pain can be similar to angina pain (shown in red and orange), but the pain associated with a heart attack is usually more severe and prolonged.

Heart Attack In Depth

Learn more about heart attack from Intermountain's Patient Education Library:

Diagnostic Tests for Heart Attack

  • EKG

    An EKG is a visual record of the spread of electrical impulses through the heart. These electrical impulses initiate the heartbeat.

Treatments for Heart Attack

Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you. Possible treatments for this condition include:

  • Angioplasty

    Angioplasty is a treatment in which a catheter with a deflated balloon at the tip is inserted into a narrowed artery. The balloon is then inflated at the site of the narrowing to help widen the artery and improve blood flow.

  • Brachytherapy

    Brachytherapy uses radiation to keep blocked heart arteries open. It is usually combined with angioplasty and stent placement.

  • Bypass Surgery

    In bypass surgery, a vein from your leg — or an artery from your chest wall or arm — is used to bypass a coronary artery that is narrowed or blocked by fatty plaque buildup.

  • Stent Placement

    Stent placement is a procedure where a small metal coil or tube is inserted into a narrowed artery to hold it open.

Learn about Heart Attack

Preventing a Second Heart Attack

Most Americans survive a first heart attack, but are at increased risk for another one. By taking action you can significantly reduce your chance for a second heart attack. Risk factors These factors ...

Non Surgical Treatment Options for Heart Attack

Not everyone who has had a heart attack needs open-heart surgery, such as a bypass operation. A procedure known as angioplasty can help unblock arteries. And people can do well with medication, gradua...

Cardiac Rehabilitation

What is cardiac rehabilitation? Cardiac rehabilitation is a program to help people who have heart disease. It is overseen by a health care provider. People in this program may have had a heart attack ...

What is a Heart Attack?

What is a heart attack (myocardial infarction)? A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when one or more regions of the heart muscle experience a severe or prolonged lack of oxygen caused by ...

Learn about Heart Care

How Much Do You Know About Coronary Artery Disease and Angioplasty?

How Much Do You Know About Coronary Artery Disease and Angioplasty? Coronary artery disease (CAD) plays a major role in the leading cause of death in this country: heart attack. CAD is also known as ...

Heart Disease: How Disease Management Helps

Regular physical activity and a heart-healthy diet are two essential components of managing heart disease. On some days, though, it may be difficult to keep up with your exercise routine or meal plan....

What is an Arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia? An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. Some arrhythmias can cause problems with contractions of the heart chambers by: Not allowing the ventricles (lower chambers) to fill w...

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation? Normally, the heart pumps in a well-timed fashion. The two upper chambers (atria) contract first followed by the two lower chambers (ventricles). This coordinated pumping ...

Cardiac Rehabilitation

What is cardiac rehabilitation? Cardiac rehabilitation is a program to help people who have heart disease. It is overseen by a health care provider. People in this program may have had a heart attack ...

Heart Valve Diseases

What are heart valves? The heart consists of four chambers--two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers). There is a valve through which blood passes before leaving each chamber of t...

Cardiac Condition and Diseases

Many cardiac conditions require clinical care by a physician or other heart care professional. Listed in the directory below are some of these conditions, for which we have provided a brief overview. ...

High Blood Pressure/Hypertension

What is blood pressure? Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. The force is generated with each heartbeat as blood is pumped from the heart into the blood vessels. ...

What is a Heart Attack?

What is a heart attack (myocardial infarction)? A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when one or more regions of the heart muscle experience a severe or prolonged lack of oxygen caused by ...

Carotid Artery Disease

What is carotid artery disease? Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, occurs when the carotid arteries, the main blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the brain, become n...

Chest Pain- Does This Describe Your Symptoms?

Return to Index Does this describe your symptoms? Click image for more info Definition Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or other pain in the chest This includes the area from the clavicles...

High Cholesterol

Does this test have other names? High-density lipoprotein cholesterol What is this test? An HDL cholesterol test measures the amount of high-density lipoprotein ("good") cholesterol in your blood. Hig...