heart stethoscope

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when blood is blocked from flowing to the heart. When this happens, heart muscle cells don’t get the oxygen they need. This damages the heart, and cells begin to die.

The damage can happen within minutes. But it can be lessened if emergency treatment is sought right away.

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Am I at Risk for a Heart Attack?

Heart attacks can affect people of all ages. Some people are more likely than others to have a heart attack. Your chances of having a heart attack are based on risk factors. Some of these factors are changeable, and some are not.

 Unchangeable Risk Factors

 Changeable Risk Factors

  • Age — heart attack risk increases
    at 45 for men and 55 for women
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Previous coronary heart disease
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical activity

Heart Attack Warning Signs

There are a number of warning signs to look for if you think someone is having a heart attack including:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain that travels down the arm or into the jaw area
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • A feeling of indigestion

Knowing the warning signs of a heart attack is crucial. Early treatment within the first few hours of a heart attack can reduce the damage done to the heart and even save your life.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Chest pain is the main symptom of a heart attack. This sign is more common in men than in women. Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Extreme weakness

If you or someone else is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately and request an ambulance for the quickest and safest transportation to the hospital. Do not have a friend or family member drive you to the emergency room, and do not drive yourself.

If you think you may have heart disease or be at risk for a heart attack, consult your primary care physician or visit UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute website.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.