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Heart Attack

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, generally occurs when the blood flow to the heart is blocked. When blood flow is blocked, the heart can't receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs and can suffer permanent damage or death.

Heart Attack Info Videos

Plaque, Coronary Artery Disease and Heart Attack

Causes of Heart Attack 

Coronary artery disease is the major underlying cause of heart attacks.

Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries. A clot most often forms in a coronary artery that has become narrow because of the build-up of plaque along the artery walls. The plaque can crack and trigger formation of a blood clot. Other common causes of heart attack include:

  • Thickening of the walls of the arteries feeding the heart muscle (coronary arteries)
  • Narrowing of the coronary arteries
  • Spasm of the coronary arteries

Heart Attack Risk Factors 

Risk factors that may increase your chance of developing a heart attack, including:

  • Being male
  • Increased age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood cholesterol - specifically, high LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and low HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Family members with heart disease

Heart Attack Symptoms

Symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • Squeezing, heavy chest pain, especially with:
    • Exercise or extertion
    • Emotional stress
    • Cold weather
    • A large meal
  • Pain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating, clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Anxiety, especially feeling a sense of doom or panic without apparent reason; may not be able to sit still for very long

    Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

    Heart attack symptoms in women may differ or be less noticeable than those in men. In addition to the symptoms above, women may also experience:

    • Abdominal pain or heartburn
    • Back and shoulder pain
    • Confusion
    • Clamminess
    • Unusual fatigue
    • Lightheadedness or dizziness

    Heart Attack Diagnosis

    Tests for heart attack may include:

    • Blood tests - to look for certain chemicals found in the blood within hours or days after a heart attack
    • Urine tests - to look for certain items found in the urine within hours or days after a heart attack
    • Electrocadiogram (EKG) - records the heart's rate and rhythm. Damage to the heart may cause the beat to be too fast, too slow, or very irregular
    • Echocardiogram - uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the size, shame, function, and motion of the heart
    • Stress test - records the heartbeat under increased physical stress, usually done days or weeks after the heart attack
    • Nuclear scanning - uses radioactive material to show areas of the heart muscle where there is limited or no blood flow
    • Electron-beam computed tomography (EBCT) - a type of X-ray that uses a computer to make detailed pictures of the heart, coronary artieries, and other surrounding structures
    • Coronary angiography - uses dye and X-rays to look for narrowing or blockage in the coronary arteries

    Quick Treatment for Heart Attack

    From the moment a blood clot forms and a patient experiences the first symptom of a heart attack, a race against time begins.

    With each minute that passes, the heart muscle is progressively damaged and the patient’s condition worsens. While the damage cannot be reversed, it can be reduced through the quick restoration of blood flow

    Better than the national average

    Because every minute matters, specialists in cardiovascular care at Memorial Hermann review every aspect of the treatment process - from patient arrival (door) to the start of treatment (balloon). With this process, Memorial Hermann hospitals have a time to treatment far ahead of the national average. 

    The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have developed national guidelines calling for a door-to-balloon time of less than 90 minutes for hospitals that offer direct angioplasty. 

    Advanced in Heart Attack Treatment

    The emphasis on quality improvement has led to numerous advances in the management of heart attack, including:

    • An average time to first electrocardiogram of 6.2 minutes, consistent with the national goal of 10 minutes or less
    • Development and implementation of ECG transmission from the field
    • Tiered emergency response to dispatch more highly trained paramedics, rather than EMTs, to respond to cardiac emergences, such as cardiac arrest
    • Implementation of a paramedic squad to respond to high-volume areas of the metro area

    What is "door-to-balloon?"

    One of the most effective treatments for a heart attack is angioplasty, a procedure during which a small balloon is inflated to open blocked arteries. The time from when a patient enters the emergency room until the angioplasty balloon is inserted is critical. The lower the "door-to-balloon" time, the better the patient's outcome.

    The First Citywide Network of Chest Pain Centers

    When you are experiencing chest pain and possibly having a heart attack, every minute counts. Knowing where to go for the gold standard of emergency cardiac care can be the difference between life and death.

    Wherever you see a Memorial Hermann hospital, you can be confident that the people inside are committed to providing world-class quality in delivery of emergency cardiac care.

    Nine Accredited Chest Pain Centers

    Each of the Memorial Hermann's nine hospitals now has an accredited Chest Pain Center, as designated by the Society of Chest Pain Centers (SCPC).Houston Chest Pain Center

    What is an Accredited Chest Pain Center?

    Accredited Chest Pain Centers undergo a rigorous evaluation process by the SCPC based on their ability to assess, diagnose, and treat patients quickly and effectively, clinical outcome statistics and comparisons nationwide. Currently there are less than 400 accredited chest pain centers, only representing 10% of United States hospitals.

    Shortening Time to Treatment for Heart Attack Patients

    Working in partnership with EMS, emergency physicians, cardiologists and critical care nurses, a Chest Pain Center's goal is to shorten the time from a patient's initial cardiac symptoms to treatment.

    Patient Outcomes

    Accredited Chest Pain Centers have been found to reduce the mortality rates of patients suffering from chest pain through a very specific protocol-driven and systematic approach which allows physicians to:

    • Treat patients more quickly during the critical early stages of heart attack, when treatments are most effective
    • Better monitor patients when it's not clear whether they are having a coronary event, which ensures that patients are not sent home too early or needlessly admitted

    Heart Attack Patient Stories

    Venola_Jolley_thumbTracy's Story - Sudden Heart Attack

    Tracy was on her way home from the exercise studio when she started feeling "kinda funny". After speaking with her husband she made the decision to go to Memorial Hermann The Woodlands.

    Read the full story »


    Venola_Jolley_thumbAngelina's Story - Heart Attack Survivor

    Angelina was on an overnight in Louisville, Kentucky when she was awoken by strong heart palpitations.

    Read the full story »


    ClarenceFontenot_ThumbDawn's Story - Heart Attack Survivor

    When Clarence Fontenot was in junior high, he wanted badly to play football. But when his mother took him for his required physical, he immediately failed to get clearance to join the team.

    Read the full story »


    ClarenceFontenot_ThumbJennifer's Story - Heart Attack at 32

    32-year-old Jennifer Cooper Cheak was playing with her 3-week-old baby and son when she started to feel tightness and pressure in her chest. A few minutes later, she experienced a heart attack and was rushed to a local hospital.

    Read the full story »

    Learn More

    To learn more about heart attacks, our cardiologists, or treatment facilities, please use our contact form here. Schedule an appointment with a Memorial Hermann Cardiologist online or by calling (713) 222-2273.