Heart Attack: Overview

Heart attack, also called Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI), occurs when the heart does not get enough blood supply. It is a well-known medical emergency. Note that “cardiac arrest” is the medical name when the heart actually stops beating, and that “heart failure” is a very different disease. The best known symptom is chest pain, but symptoms of heart attack are often quite variable, and not always the classic severe chest pain that many people expected. Patients often describe it as chest pressure, or chest tightness, rather than pain. The pain may radiate down the left side, and left shoulder pain and left arm pain are hallmark symptoms of heart attack. However, patients also sometimes feel pain on the right side (right arm pain), neck pain, upper abdominal pain, or pain between the shoulder blades. Other symptoms include breathing difficulty, sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, panic, vomiting, and sometimes collapse and unconsciousness. If heart attack is suspected at all, emergency medical help should be summoned. Differential diagnosis includes a variety of heart disorders (e.g. angina), lung disorders, reflux/heartburn, other causes of chest pain, emotional disorders such as a panic attack, and many other possibilities. Treatment of heart attack requires immediate emergency medical treatment, first aid, various medications, oxygen, defibrillation, etc. Heart surgery may be required, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery. Long-term complications that develop after a person has survived a heart attack may include heart failure, arrhythmias, and ventricular fibrillation.

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