Skip to Main Content
A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

Heart attack

Heart attack, also known medically as myocardial infarction, is a condition that occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked by plaque, fat, and cholesterol buildup in the coronary arteries.

Myocardial infarction is very serious, and if you or someone else are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Quick treatment is vital for preventing death.

Heart attack symptoms

  • Chest pain that may feel like tightness, squeezing, pressure, or aching
  • Cold sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pain that spreads to areas of the upper body, including the upper belly and jaw
  • Shortness of breath

Causes of heart attack

Coronary artery disease is a condition in which one or more arteries in the heart are blocked and is the main cause of heart attacks. Arteries become clogged when cholesterol deposits build up along their walls.

Heart attack classifications

  • ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) is the most common type of heart attack and occurs when a coronary artery is completely blocked, and blood flow to part of the heart muscle is prevented.
  • Non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) can happen when an artery is only partially blocked.
  • Coronary spasm, or unstable angina, is caused by a tightening of the arteries that leads to a drastic reduction in blood flow. Its symptoms are similar to those seen in STEMI and are often mistaken for muscle aches or indigestion.

Heart attack risk factors

Heart attack prevention tips

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Healthy fats and proteins
    • Minimal sodium
    • Limited processed foods
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Manage other health conditions that can affect your heart, like diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Take medications as directed

Heart attack symptoms can happen on and off, or continuously over the course of a few minutes or a few hours. Chances are, if you have been experiencing chest pain for several days or weeks, it is not related to a heart attack.

If you see somebody having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Have them chew and swallow an aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots if they are conscious. If they lose consciousness, administer CPR or follow the instructions on an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is immediately available.

Find a Doctor

Looking for a doctor? Perform a quick search by name or browse by specialty.

Contact Our Nurse Navigator

To learn more about cardiovascular disease management or treatment options, reach out to our Nurse Navigator.