Heart Attack (Myocardial infarction)

Heart attack

The heart is the muscle responsible for pumping blood around the body. Vessels called arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the organs and muscles so they can work. The arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart are called coronary arteries. When one of these gets blocked and blood flow to the heart is seriously impaired, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs. Immediate medical help is needed or the heart suffers permanent damage.

If a heart attack victim reaches the hospital within 1 to 3 hours of an attack and receives one of the drugs designed to unblock the coronary arteries (streptokinase, urokinase, or TPA), blood flow to the heart is able to resume normally.


Symptoms that may indicate a heart attack include:

  • pain, tightness, or uncomfortable sensation of pressure in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or is not relieved by nitroglycerin;
  • pain radiating to the shoulders, neck, or arm;
  • Difficulty in breathing, a choking sensation;
  • dizziness, abundant sweating.

All of these symptoms do not always occur at the same time. If you experience some or all of them, go to the hospital at once. If you observe these symptoms in someone else, call 911 or take the person to a hospital immediately even if the person insists that it’s not necessary, that the symptoms will just go away. Acting quickly can save a person’s life.

How can you prevent a heart attack?

Certain factors can increase your risk of having a heart attack. These risk factors include:

  • diabetes;
  • lack of exercise;
  • heart disease (arrhythmia, hypertension);
  • obesity;
  • stress;
  • smoking (cigarettes, cigars, pipe);
  • high cholesterol level.

There are two other risk factors: being a man and having a family history of heart attack. While these two cannot be controlled or avoided, all the other risk factors can be.

Previous victims of a heart attack

If you who have had a heart attack before, you must not only control these risk factors but also:

  • avoid strenuous exercise;
  • choose rhythmical and repetitive exercise (aerobic exercise, walking, cycling, swimming, or jogging); and
  • avoid extreme temperatures, such as very humid weather and extreme cold.

Drug therapy

Remember that heart attacks occur when the heart does not receive enough oxygen. After a heart attack, the physician will prescribe a beta-blocker, a drug designed to reduce the heart’s oxygen needs and promote blood flow.

What happens after a heart attack?

Some people appear to have no residual effects following a heart attack and want to go back home immediately. But most people feel drained, confused, and sometimes depressed. Hospital stays following a heart attack are highly variable. Those who have suffered a relatively mild attack with no complications can usually go home after a week.

Most heart attacks require a rest period of at least 6 weeks. Driving should be resumed slowly, starting with short distances and non-stressful situations. Sexual activities should also be resumed with caution, and in the usual setting; begin sexual relations slowly to prepare the heart for the increased blood pressure and heartbeats.

For more information or for support

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada