The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood through the body. It is a muscle about the size of a fist and lies between the lungs in the middle of the chest. The heart cells, like the brain and other organ cells, need a constant supply of oxygen to work. There are blood vessels surrounding the heart that supply this needed oxygen.
A heart attack happens when the oxygen-rich blood supply to the heart is reduced or stops. If the heart muscle is deprived of this blood, it will die. Damage to the heart or cardiac arrest will occur if the oxygen supply is not returned to normal. Heart attacks may seem to strike suddenly but are usually the result of disease of the heart and blood vessels.
Heart disease, such as atherosclerosis, develops slowly as deposits of cholesterol – a fatty substance made by the body and present in certain foods– build up in the inner walls of blood vessels. This is referred to as coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the gradual narrowing of the blood vessels, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Heart disease can lead to a heart attack.
A heart attack has some common signs or symptoms. Recognizing these signals and getting prompt medical care can prevent serious damage to the heart. A major sign is pain or discomfort in the chest that does not go away. Sometimes, heart attack pain can be mistaken for the pain of indigestion, muscle spasms or other conditions.
The pain is also described as a discomfort, or an unbearable crushing sensation. Sometimes it can be described as pressure, squeezing, tightness, aching or heaviness in the chest. The pain is in the center of the chest and may spread to the shoulder, arm, neck, jaw or back. The pain is usually constant and doesn’t change with rest, changing position or taking medication.
Some symptoms are difficulty breathing, pale or bluish skin, and sweaty moist skin.