Heart Attack – things you need to know about it

Jan 26, 2018,

Although the heart is a vital organ that pumps oxygen-rich blood through blood vessels (arteries) to every other organ in the body, it receives its own nourishment also from the blood. The specialized arteries that supply blood to the heart for nourishment are called coronary arteries.

Right from a young age, plaques (accumulation of inflammatory cells, fat, cholesterol, calcium and fibrin) begin to be deposited on the inner lining of arteries reducing the elasticity of these arteries. After some decades, these plaques may clog the arteries thereby reducing the effective supply of blood to the organ supplied by that artery. Clogging in the coronary arteries is one of the key steps to developing a heart attack. Reduction in the supply of blood to the heart in times of stress or increased demand like exercise causes a gnawing discomfort in your chest that is termed ‘angina’.

Sometimes the plaque may rupture and dislodge to block smaller arteries that supply a particular region of the heart. When this happens, that region of the heart is deprived of its blood supply and the heart cells begin to die (myocardial Infarction or ‘heart attack’). Other internal process like ‘clot formation’ may also take place. This further worsens the lack of blood supply.  Any one experiencing this phenomenon must receive medical intervention within an hour or two to prevent heart failure or more damage to the heart.


While the process that initiates the deposition of plaques is not fully known, a few predisposing factors have been highlighted. These factors are grouped into modifiable factors (that you can do something about) and non-modifiable (that you can’t do anything about).

Non-modifiable factors:

  • Age
  • Sex – problems associated with plaque deposition occur more in males
  • Family history of coronary artery disease
  • Male pattern baldness

Modifiable factors:

  • High level of ‘bad’ cholesterol and low level of ‘good’ cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes or elevated circulating blood sugar
  • Obesity (abdominal obesity)
  • Psychosocial Stress
  • Sedentary lifestyle and/or lack of exercise

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, chest pain, pain in the arm, or below the breastbone
  • Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats

Tips for preventing a heart attack

As stated above, there are modifications that can help to prevent heart attack. Note that having a previous heart attack is a risk for another episode so prevention is pertinent:

  • Quit cigarette smoking
  • Have an exercise plan that you follow strictly
  • Maintain an ideal body weight
  • Control high blood pressure and high blood sugar if present
  • Check the level of blood cholesterol regularly (at least once every two years from age 40)


2013 ESC guidelines on the management of stable coronary artery disease: The Task Force on the management of stable coronary artery disease of the European Society of Cardiology Eur Heart J (2013) 34 (38): 2949-3003.

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By Adeleke Adeniyi Onasanya (ID: DOC3407)       Comments       Rating: