What is a heart attack?
A heart attack (also known as a myocardial infarction, or MI) happens when part of your heart muscle is damaged or dies due to a lack of blood flow to the area, which deprives it of oxygen.
The leading cause of heart attack is atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty material (plaque) is deposited along the walls of arteries. The plaque hardens and may eventually block the arteries.
If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away.
Common heart attack symptoms
The most common heart attack symptoms include the following:
- Chest tightness or chest pain, though 20 percent of heart attack patients have no pain — mainly diabetics, those with high blood pressure and elderly patients
- Discomfort that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms or back
- Chest discomfort accompanied by lightheadedness, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath
Less common heart attack symptoms
There are also less common warning signs, which women may be more likely to experience:
- Stomach pain
- Palpitations, cold sweat or paleness
- Unexplained weakness or fatigue
- Risk factors for a heart attack include the following: