Organ or part of body involved: Coronary Artery
Symptoms and indications: Although chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom of a heart attack, heart attack victims may experience a diversity of symptoms that include: Pain, fullness, and/or squeezing sensation of the chest; Jaw pain, toothache, headache; Shortness of breath; Nausea, vomiting, and/or general epigastric (upper middle abdomen) discomfort; Sweating; Heartburn and/or indigestion; Arm pain (more commonly the left arm, but may be either arm); Upper back pain; General malaise (vague feeling of illness); No symptoms (Approximately one quarter of all heart attacks are silent, without chest pain or new symptoms. Silent heart attacks are especially common among patients with diabetes mellitus). Even though the symptoms of a heart attack at times can be vague and mild, it is important to remember that heart attacks producing no symptoms or only mild symptoms can be just as serious and life-threatening as heart attacks that cause severe chest pain. Too often patients attribute heart attack symptoms to "indigestion," "fatigue," or "stress," and consequently delay seeking prompt medical attention.
Causes and risk factors: Atherosclerosis : Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which plaques (collections) of cholesterol are deposited in the walls of arteries. Cholesterol plaques cause hardening of the arterial walls and narrowing of the inner channel (lumen) of the artery. Arteries that are narrowed by atherosclerosis cannot deliver enough blood to maintain normal function of the parts of the body they supply. For example, atherosclerosis of the arteries in the legs causes reduced blood flow to the legs. Reduced blood flow to the legs can lead to pain in the legs while walking or exercising, leg ulcers, or a delay in the healing of wounds to the legs. Atherosclerosis of the arteries that furnish blood to the brain can lead to vascular dementia (mental deterioration due to gradual death of brain tissue over many years) or stroke (sudden death of brain tissue).
In many people, atherosclerosis can remain silent (causing no symptoms or health problems) for years or decades. Atherosclerosis can begin as early as the teenage years, but symptoms or health problems usually do not arise until later in adulthood when the arterial narrowing becomes severe. Smoking cigarettes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus can accelerate atherosclerosis and lead to the earlier onset of symptoms and complications, particularly in those people who have a family history of early atherosclerosis.
Coronary atherosclerosis (or coronary artery disease) refers to the atherosclerosis that causes hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries. Diseases caused by the reduced blood supply to the heart muscle from coronary atherosclerosis are called coronary heart diseases (CHD). Coronary heart diseases include heart attacks, sudden unexpected death, chest pain (angina), abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure due to weakening of the heart muscle.
Atherosclerosis and angina pectoris : Angina pectoris (also referred to as angina) is chest pain or pressure that occurs when the blood and oxygen supply to the heart muscle cannot keep up with the needs of the muscle. When coronary arteries are narrowed by more than 50 to 70 percent, the arteries cannot increase the supply of blood to the heart muscle during exercise or other periods of high demand for oxygen. An insufficient supply of oxygen to the heart muscle causes angina. Angina that occurs with exercise or exertion is called exertional angina. In some patients, especially diabetics, the progressive decrease in blood flow to the heart may occur without any pain or with just shortness of breath or unusually early fatigue.
Exertional angina usually feels like a pressure, heaviness, squeezing, or aching across the chest. This pain may travel to the neck, jaw, arms, back, or even the teeth, and may be accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, or a cold sweat. Exertional angina typically lasts from 1 to 15 minutes. Exertional angina may be the first warning sign of advanced coronary artery disease. Chest pains that just last a few seconds rarely are due to coronary artery disease.
Angina also can occur at rest. Angina at rest more commonly indicates that a coronary artery has narrowed to such a critical degree that the heart is not receiving enough oxygen even at rest. Angina at rest infrequently may be due to spasm of a coronary artery (a condition called Prinzmetal's or variant angina). Unlike a heart attack, there is no permanent muscle damage with either exertional or rest angina.
Atherosclerosis and heart attack :
Occasionally the surface of a cholesterol plaque in a coronary artery may rupture, and a blood clot forms on the surface of the plaque. The clot blocks the flow of blood through the artery and results in a heart attack. The cause of rupture that leads to the formation of a clot is largely unknown, but contributing factors may include cigarette smoking or other nicotine exposure, elevated LDL cholesterol, elevated levels of blood catecholamines (adrenaline), high blood pressure, and other mechanical and biochemical forces.
Unlike exertional or rest angina, heart muscle dies during a heart attack, and loss of the muscle is permanent.
Prevention: Stop smoking cigarettes; Reduce excess weight, and exercise regularly; Control blood pressure and diabetes; Follow a diet that is low in cholesterol (less than 200 mg daily) and saturated fat (less than 7% of total calories); Reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. Reduction of LDL cholesterol to a value below 100 mg/dl, particularly with the statin group of medications, has been demonstrated to prevent further heart attacks. Patients with low HDL (less than 35 mg/dl) are encouraged to exercise regularly and to take medications to increase HDL; and Eat a diet rich in omega-3-fatty acids by eating more fish or take fish oil supplements. High intake of omega-3-fatty acids decreases the risk of sudden death from heart attacks.