Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction) | William G. & Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine | Loyola Medicine

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

Overview and Facts about Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

Also known as coronary thrombosis, a heart attack occurs when one of the heart’s coronary arteries becomes blocked by a small blood clot. Typically, this type of clot forms in an artery that is already narrowed due to atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque build-up narrows the arteries. 

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

If you experience any signs of a heart attack, you should seek medical help immediately. While some heart attacks are sudden, most begin slowly with mild discomfort. Signs and symptoms of a heart attack may include:

Chest pain: Most myocardial infarctions involve pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, lasting for several minutes. It may go away then return. It can feel like uncomfortable fullness or pressure.

  • Radiating pain: Pain may also be felt in the stomach, neck, jaw or one or both arms.
  • Breathlessness: This may occur with or without chest pain.
  • Various signs: Other symptoms may include sweating, nausea, heartburn and lightheadedness.

Symptoms are slightly different between women and men. Women are more likely to experience nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, and back or jaw pain.

Causes and Risk Factors of Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

Most heart attacks are caused by atherosclerosis. Other risk factors include:

Tests and Diagnosis of Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

The type of test your doctor recommends will depend on what heart condition she thinks you may have. Common tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG records the electrical impulses from your heart.
  • Echocardiogram: An ultrasound of your chest, this test reveals the size and structure of your heart.
  • Holter monitoring: This portable device measures any irregular heart rhythms.
  • Stress test: This test uses exercise to raise your heart rate to see how it responds.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A short sheath is placed in a vein in your arm or leg. A catheter is inserted into the sheath. The catheter is guided to the heart by X-ray images, enabling the doctor to measure the pressure in your heart’s chambers.
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): For this test, you will lie in a long machine that produces a magnetic field to create images of your heart.
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan: For this test you will lie on a table while a donut-shaped machine rotates around your body, taking images of your chest and heart.  

Treatment and Care for Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

Medications to treat a heart attack may include:

  • Aspirin
  • Blood-thinning medications
  • Pain relievers
  • Beta-blockers
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Statins
  • ACE inhibitors

Along with medications, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure such as:

  • Coronary angioplasty and stenting: For this procedure, the surgeon inserts a catheter through an artery in your wrist or groin and guides it through your arteries to find the blockage. At the end of the catheter is a balloon that can be inflated to open a blocked artery.
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery: This involves stitching arteries or veins beyond a blockage to allow blood to bypass the blockage.

During the early stages of the extensive heart attack, your doctor may insert an intra-arterial balloon pump or some other blood pump to help weaken the heart to better pump blood into your arteries while resting the wounded heart.