How is a heart attack diagnosed?
When you arrive at the emergency room, you will be quickly evaluated and usually have an electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG). An electrocardiogram is a graphic record of the heart's electrical activity as it contracts and relaxes. An ECG can detect signs of poor blood flow, heart muscle damage, abnormal heartbeats, and other heart problems.
Several blood tests will be done, including tests to see whether cardiac enzymes (especially troponin) are elevated, a sign of heart muscle damage. Results of these tests are usually available quickly.
You may have a cardiac catheterization and coronary angiogram. Using this X-ray exam, your doctor can see whether your coronary arteries are blocked and how your heart functions.
How is a heart attack treated?
Quick treatment for a heart attack or unstable angina is critical. If blood supply can be rapidly restored to the heart, damage to heart tissue may be prevented (in unstable angina), or more heart tissue can be saved from permanent damage.
On the way to the hospital or in the emergency room, you probably will be given an aspirin (if you have not taken one already). Other medicines that prevent blood clots from forming or that break up blood clots may be given through a needle in your vein. To be effective, these must be given within a few hours of the start of your heart attack. Medicines that help decrease your heart's workload, ease your pain, and prevent life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms are often also given.
You may be taken directly to the cardiac catheterization lab to see whether your coronary arteries are blocked. If so, your doctor may decide to open them with angioplasty and probably a stent. A stent is a small, coiled, wire-mesh tube that holds the artery walls open. At the same time, you will probably receive medicines that keep your blood from clotting. If needed, emergency coronary artery bypass graph surgery may be done.
After these procedures, you will probably be started on medicines to prevent more clots from forming, reduce the workload on your heart, and lower your cholesterol. These medicines help prevent another heart attack and heart failure. Usually, you continue to take these and possibly other medicines for the rest of your life.
Can I prevent a heart attack?
Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, cereals, beans, grains, and olive oil (called a Mediterranean diet) along with taking medicines to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and taking a daily aspirin can help prevent a heart attack.
If you have already had a heart attack, you may be able to prevent a second one by reducing your risk factors. Your doctor will often recommend daily aspirin to help reduce your risk of another heart attack. Participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program will help you learn how to eat a balanced diet and exercise safely to reduce your risk of more heart problems.
In the past, heart attack was thought to be mostly a male disease. However, a recent study-looking at 1,820 people hospitalized for heart attacks in Minnesota from 1979 to 1994-found that while heart attack rates for men had dropped by 8%, heart attacks in women had increased by 36%. Recently, health associations have increased their efforts to make women aware of their risk.