Myocardial Infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, is a critical medical event characterised by the sudden and often severe interruption of blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. This interruption typically occurs when a coronary artery, responsible for supplying blood to the heart, becomes blocked.
According to the Heart Research Institute:
- Myocardial infarction is the leading cause of hospitalisation and death in Australia, claiming on average 19 lives every day.
- 57,000 Australians suffer a heart attack every year.
- Every nine minutes, one person is hospitalised due to a heart attack.
Understanding myocardial infarction is important. The more proactive steps you can take to manage your
What are the symptoms of myocardial infarction?
Recognising the symptoms of myocardial infarction is crucial for seeking prompt medical attention. They include:
- Chest Pain or Discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the centre or left side of the chest. The sensation may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Upper Body Discomfort: Pain or discomfort may extend beyond the chest to the arms (usually the left arm but can affect both), back, neck, jaw, or even the upper part of the stomach.
- Shortness of Breath: Feeling breathless or having difficulty breathing can be a symptom of a heart attack.
- Cold Sweating: Profuse sweating, often described as cold or clammy skin, may occur.
- Nausea or Vomiting: Some people may experience nausea, vomiting, or a general feeling of sickness.
- Lightheadedness or Dizziness: Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or faint can be a symptom, often accompanied by other signs.
- Fatigue: Unexplained fatigue, weakness, or a sudden onset of extreme tiredness may be a warning sign.
If you suspect you or someone else is having a heart attack, it is critical to seek emergency medical attention immediately. Time is a crucial factor in minimising damage to the heart muscle, and prompt intervention can significantly improve the chances of a positive outcome.
What are the common causes of myocardial infarction?
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
The cornerstone of myocardial infarction, CAD stems from the gradual accumulation of fatty deposits, known as plaques. These plaques form in the coronary arteries which are responsible for supplying the heart muscle with oxygen, causing them to become narrowed over time. This narrowing restricts blood flow, setting the stage for a heart attack by diminishing the heart’s access to vital nutrients.
Atherosclerosis is a process of arterial narrowing that precedes myocardial infarction. The arteries succumb to the buildup of cholesterol, fatty deposits, and other substances on their walls. This gradual narrowing impairs blood flow and increasing the likelihood of a heart attack.
The formation of blood clots within the coronary arteries are a critical trigger for myocardial infarction. These clots may emerge following the rupture of a plaque, disrupting the processes within the arteries. Alternatively, clots originating elsewhere in the body may journey to the heart, obstructing vital blood supply and preempting a heart attack.
Tobacco smoke is full of chemicals that contribute to myocardial infarction. Smoking damages blood vessels, and the toxic parts of smoke accelerate the accumulation of plaques, amplifying the risk of reduced blood flow to the heart and eventual heart attack.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Elevated blood pressure is a threat to cardiovascular health as it exerts undue stress on the heart. Hypertension significantly escalates the risk of myocardial infarction. The relentless strain on the heart compromises its ability to function optimally, paving the way for potentially catastrophic events.
High Cholesterol Levels
The presence of elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) serves as a catalyst for plaque formation within the arteries. This unwelcome buildup not only jeopardises blood flow but also acts as a precursor to myocardial infarction. Managing cholesterol levels is pivotal in mitigating this risk.
Individuals grappling with diabetes face a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, including myocardial infarction. The combination of elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance contributes to arterial damage, fostering an environment conducive to heart attacks.
Excess body weight, especially when concentrated around the abdomen, acts as a red flag for heart health. Obesity elevates various risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes, increasing the susceptibility to myocardial infarction.
Lack of Physical Activity
A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for heart attacks. Physical inactivity not only contributes to obesity but also exacerbates other cardiovascular risks, making regular exercise a cornerstone of heart health.
Advancing age is also a risk factor for myocardial infarction. Individuals over the age of 65 are particularly vulnerable, as the cumulative effects of ageing amplify the likelihood of coronary artery disease and related complications.
Genetics and Family History
A familial legacy of heart disease can affect an individual’s cardiovascular well-being. Genetic predisposition may influence the development of atherosclerosis and other risk factors, underscoring the importance of understanding one’s family history.
When should I seek medical attention with myocardial infarctions?
Seeking immediate medical attention is paramount if you suspect a myocardial infarction. The typical symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, and pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, back, or stomach. If you experience any of these signs, especially if they are severe or prolonged, call emergency services (000) without delay. Quick intervention significantly improves the chances of minimising heart damage and enhancing recovery prospects.
How are myocardial infarctions treated?
Upon reaching a healthcare facility, treatments may include medications such as blood thinners to dissolve clots, pain relievers to alleviate discomfort, and medications to improve heart function. In severe cases, medical procedures like angioplasty, where blocked arteries are opened, or coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) may be necessary to restore blood flow to the heart. Post-treatment, lifestyle changes and medications are often prescribed to manage risk factors and prevent future incidents.
Can myocardial infarctions be a sign of other cardiovascular conditions?
Yes, myocardial infarctions can be indicative of underlying cardiovascular conditions. Often, heart attacks are a consequence of CAD or atherosclerosis. Myocardial infarctions can also signal broader heart-related issues such as heart failure, arrhythmias, or valve disorders. It is essential to address the root causes and undergo comprehensive cardiovascular assessments to prevent future complications and promote heart health.
Where can I go if I need diagnosis and treatment for cardiovascular conditions?
If you are potentially experiencing a cardiovascular condition, you can receive diagnosis and treatment at HeartWest.
HeartWest is the largest cardiology group in the western and northwestern corridors of Melbourne, with 4 major locations and 3 satellite sites.
At HeartWest, our qualified experts will provide you with the best cardiology care. You will experience nothing but professionalism, care and courtesy; from your first interaction with our staff, to going through tests, procedures and consultations.
Our cardiologists have expertise in all fields of adult cardiology, including;
- General cardiology
- Heart failure
- Cardiac imaging (including stress echocardiography)
- Interventional cardiology
- Electrophysiology & pacing
- Cardiothoracic surgery
Contact us for efficient and affordable specialist heart care services.