Health&Fitness Talk

Supporting Healthy Life Styles

Understanding heart attacks Understanding heart attacks
Myocardial infarction (MI) and Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI) are the medical terms for what the general public calls a "heart attack". Many Drs... Understanding heart attacks

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Myocardial infarction (MI) and Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI) are the medical terms for what the general public calls a “heart attack”.  Many Drs estimate that over 3 million people will suffer from some type of heart attack in the US every year.  Deaths from heart attacks has been more common in developed countries.  However, recent studies show that death rates have been declining in higher income countries and increasing in developing countries.  Many believe the shift is because the people living in the higher income countries are better educated about nutrition and health maintenance.
People in developing countries tend to understand less about the difference between good nutrition and not so good nutrition.  for example in Honduras they deep fry everything.  One of the girls living with me made breakfast one day and I just couldn’t believe she even deep fried the eggs!  Trying to get them to eat less deep fried foods is one of my greatest challenges, especially since I like fied chicken and french fries too!  Not only does their own culture impact their health, but everywhere you look the American fast food chains have moved in from Burger King and Wendy’s to Pizza Hut and KFC.
A heart attack occurs when one of the arteries known as coronary arteries which are the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygenated blood becomes blocked preventing the blood carrying the oxygen to get through to the  waiting muscle cells.  Just as with all cells in our body if they don’t receive oxygen they become damaged or die.   The damage or death of the muscle tissue is known as an infarct.
The number one underlying cause of heart attacks is atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is a slow, gradual process in which various fats and cholesterol stick to the walls of arteries forming deposits known as “plaques”.  These plaques can be located anywhere in our body and of varying sizes.  These plaques are soft on the inside with a hard shell outside.  As these plaques harden they crack and pieces break off.  depending on the size of the piece it can either reduce or completely obstruct the blood flow through the arteries.  When this occurs in one of the coronary arteries a heart attack occurs.
Symptoms of a heart attack not only vary from person to person they also tend to be different between men and women.  Women also tend to experience whats called “silent heart attacks” than men.  Women tend to experience more neck and shoulder pain accompanied by abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, as well as fatigue and shortness of breath.  Where as men tend to experience “crushing” chest pain, pain that radiates down the left arm and sever shortness of breath.  some people experience persistent “heartburn” and medicate themselves with over the counter antacids only ti end up in the emergency room with a heart attack.
A heart attack is a medical emergency and should be treated as such.  There are numerous tests available today that can determine not only if a heart attack occurred but the severity of the damage done.  There are also numerous medications available today to treat heart attacks..  Aspirin has become more known for it’s blood thinning capabilities than it’s pain relieving abilities.  Other medications known as clot busters are effective if administered within a certain time period after the heart attack occurs.  The sooner you receive treatment the better the outcome.
If you have not had a heart attack yet it’s not too late to try to prevent one.  Making certain lifestyle changes is always the first step.  One of the most important things you need to do is if you smoke….quit.  The ne3xt is making dietary adjustments.   Decrease fats and carbohydrates, less red meat, increase fresh fruit and vegetables and eat more fish and chicken, and when I say chicken I mean the white meat, the dark meat is higher in fat and cholesterol.  Regular exercise keeps the heart muscle in shape, just as it keeps your other muscles in shape.  Get regular check ups, including having your cholesterol and blood pressure checked.  It’s very important to keep certain health issues like hypertension, high cholesterol, and especially diabetes under control.  Your Dr can help you with a plan that includes both lifestyle changes and medications to help you prevent a heart attack.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at