Heart Attack

What is a Heart Attack?

Blood Flow to the Heart Is Blocked

The heart works 24 hours a day, pumping oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body. Blood is supplied to the heart through its coronary arteries. If a blood clot suddenly blocks a coronary artery, it cuts off most or all blood supply to the heart, and a heart attack results. If blood flow isn't restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.

Affects Both Men and Women

Heart attacks are a leading killer of both men and women in the United States. Each year, more than one million people in the U.S. have a heart attack and about half of them die. Half of those who die do so within one hour of the start of symptoms and before reaching the hospital.

The good news is that excellent treatments are available for heart attacks. These treatments can save lives and prevent disabilities.

Prompt Treatment Is Important

Heart attack treatment works best when it's given right after symptoms occur. Prompt treatment of a heart attack can help prevent or limit damage to the heart and prevent sudden death.

Call 9-1-1 Right Away

A heart attack is an emergency. Call 9-1-1 for an ambulance right away -- within 5 minutes -- if you think you or someone else may be having a heart attack. You also should call for help if your chest pain doesn't go away as it usually does when you take medicine prescribed for angina (chest pain).

Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Emergency personnel in the ambulance can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room. They carry drugs and equipment that can help your medical condition, including

  • oxygen
  • aspirin to prevent further blood clotting
  • heart medications, such as nitroglycerin
  • pain relief treatments
  • defibrillators that can restart the heart if it stops beating.

If blood flow in the blocked artery can be restored quickly, permanent heart damage may be prevented. Yet, many people do not seek medical care for 2 hours or more after symptoms start.