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Heart disease ranks as the leading cause of death for both adult men and women in the U.S., according to statistics complied by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Each year roughly 785,000 Americans will suffer their first coronary attack, and an additional 470,000 people who have already suffered one or more attacks will have another. The most common type of heart disease, coronary heart disease killed over 405,000 people in 2008 and cost the U.S. over $100 billion in health care cost and lost productivity in 2010 alone.

Perhaps the staggeringly high number of coronary attacks Americans suffer each year explains why most people think of a heart attack when the topic of heart disease is discussed. However, several equally serious conditions exist that can undermine your heart’s ability to properly function, including arrhythmia, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and cardiomyopathy.

As the case with most disease, early detection is the key to helping you overcome heart disease. Knowing the signs of heart disease and heart attack can help you stay informed and alert about your health.

What is a Heart Attack?

An abrupt disruption of the heart’s blood supply, a heart attack occurs when a blockage forms in the coronary arteries, which allow blood to reach the heart. When blood flow is blocked to the heart, the muscles can quickly become damaged and die. Receiving immediate medical attention is imperative when suffering a heart attack, as the longer someone waits to seek help, the less their chances of survival become.

Even when a heart attack’s symptoms are mild, it should be considered an extreme emergency. While these symptoms may vary, warning signs of a heart attack generally include:

  • Pressure or pain in the chest
  • A feeling of discomfort that begins to spread throughout the back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Heartburn, indigestion, or nausea
  • Shortness of breath, weakness in the extremities, or anxiety
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeats

However, recent studies have shown that these warning signs of a heart attack may not always be present in women suffering a coronary attack. Women are less likely to experience chest pain during a heart attack, but do experience loss of appetite, heart burn, weakness, and heart flutters more commonly than men. More women die each year from heart attacks than men, and researchers suspect this may be due to many women overlooking the less obvious signs of heart attack and seeking treatment too late.

Causes of Heart Attack

A heart attack is caused by coronary artery disease, which takes time to develop in the body. Coronary artery disease occurs when a sticky substance known as plaque builds up inside your heart’s coronary arteries. This plaque acts like a damn, and begins to block the flow of blood through your arteries.

The plaque that builds up inside of your arteries has a hard exterior and a soft, mushy center. Occasionally, plaque’s hard outer shell will crack and blood clots will begin to form around the plaque. The clot makes the plaque even larger in size, and if it completely blocks the flow of blood to a portion of the heart, that portion of the muscle could become damaged or destroyed. Most people don’t realize they have coronary artery disease until they suffer a heart attack, but warning signs, such as recurring chest pain, should serve as an indication that a coronary attack may be imminent.

Act Quickly

If you even slightly suspect that you’re experiencing a heart attack, you need to call 911 for emergency assistance. Receiving treatment within the first hour of when symptoms started can cut your risk of dying in half. While receiving treatment within three hours after symptoms started can still decrease your risk of dying by 25 percent, every half an hour you wait to seek help after symptoms begin could take a year off of your life.

Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Jeromy Dixson, a dentist in Longview, WA.


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