Each year, approximately 715 000 Americans experience a heart attack, approximately 162 000 of which are fatal. Of those who die, almost half die suddenly before they can get to a hospital.
Although a heart attack is a frightening event, if you learn the signs of a heart attack and what steps to take, you can save a life, perhaps even your own. During a heart attack, a clot in one of the arteries of the heart suddenly blocks the flow of blood to the heart, and within minutes, heart muscle begins to die.
This is technically called a myocardial infarction, meaning death of heart muscle. The more time that passes without treatment, the greater the damage. The part of the heart that dies during a heart attack cannot grow back or be repaired.
Who Is at Risk
Many people think that heart attacks are a ‘man’s problem,’ yet heart disease is actually the No.1 killer of both men and women in the United States. In men, the risk for heart attack increases significantly after the age of 45. In women, heart attacks are more likely to occur in the years after menopause (usually after the age of 50). However, younger men and women can also have heart attacks.
Besides age, factors that increase the risk for heart attack are the following:
- a previous heart attack or procedure to open up the coronary arteries
- Family history of early heart disease (father or brother diagnosed before age 55, mother or sister diagnosed before age 65)
- diabetes mellitus
- high blood cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- cigarette smoking
- physical inactivity
If you have 1 or more of these factors, see your healthcare provider to find out how to reduce your risk of having a heart attack.