A heart attack occurs when blood vessels that supply blood to your heart are blocked, preventing enough oxygen from getting to your heart and causing heart muscle to die or become permanently damaged. Heart attacks (also known as myocardial infarction) are most often caused by blockage caused by the buildup of plaque, a process called atherosclerosis. The plaque can eventually burst, tear or rupture, creating a "snag" where a blood clot forms and blocks your artery, resulting in a heart attack. In many people, atherosclerosis can remain silent, causing no heart attack 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.
A less common cause of heart attack is the result of a coronary artery temporarily going into spasm. When this happens, the artery narrows and blood flow to part of your heart muscle decreases or stops. A spasm can occur in normal-appearing blood vessels, as well as in vessels partly blocked by atherosclerosis. While the exact cause of these spams is not known, a severe spasm can, in fact, cause a heart attack.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
Chest pain is a major heart attack symptom. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. You may feel the pain in only one part of your body, or it may move from your chest to your arms, shoulder, neck, teeth, jaw, belly area, or back.
Heart attack symptoms can be severe or mild. The pain can feel like:
- A tight band around the chest
- Bad indigestion
- Something heavy sitting on your chest
- Squeezing or heavy pressure