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 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:
Care for heart attacks at Rush
If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital. Paramedics can help begin lifesaving measures sooner and alert us to your pending arrival.
There are two main treatments heart specialists at Rush provide once a heart attack diagnosis is confirmed:
- Clot-busting drugs can actually stop heart attacks in progress, limit damage and save lives. But they must be administered shortly after symptoms begin to work well.
- Angioplasty, usually with stenting (also called percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI), is a minimally invasive procedure in which the doctor uses a catheter to thread a balloon-like device through the groin to the blocked artery. Once in place, the balloon is inflated to restore blood flow to the heart. Usually a small wire mesh tube (stent) is placed inside the artery to keep it propped open.
Other therapies for heart attack are often available through clinical trials, such as stem cell therapy. Your cardiologist will discuss your options and see if you are eligible for a trial.
Why choose Rush for heart attack care
- Rush was the first academic medical center in Chicago to be accredited as a chest pain center by the Society of Chest Pain Centers. This accreditation means Rush is committed to reducing the time it takes for a patient experiencing possible heart attack symptoms to see a physician — and to quickly getting heart attack patients into the cardiac catheterization lab so a blocked artery can be opened in the shortest amount of time.
- Rush is one of only 78 hospitals nationwide to receive the American College of Cardiology's NCDR ACTION Registry–GWTG Gold Performance Achievement Award for 2015. The award recognizes Rush’s commitment to and success in implementing a higher standard of care for heart attack patients. It also signifies that Rush has reached an aggressive goal of treating these patients to standard levels of care as outlined by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association clinical guidelines and recommendations
- Rush’s median "door-to-balloon" time — the time between when a person having a heart attack enters the hospital and receives the recommended emergency treatment of an angioplasty — is 60 minutes. This is significantly shorter than the standard U.S. goal of 90 minutes.