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What Causes a Heart Attack?

What causes a heart attack and what should you do if you think you are having one?

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
Episode #036

Step 3: The Heart Suffocates

The third step in the process happens over the course of minutes. The heart tissue that is starved for oxygen can survive for about 20 minutes before it dies off. That is why I said in my last article that continuous pain lasting more than 20 minutes is not likely to be a heart attack. If a small part of the heart is cut off from oxygen, the person may not even know they’ve had a heart attack. If it is a large part of the heart that is cut off, it is critical to get help as soon as possible.

Why Heart Attacks Kill

Two things can kill a person from a heart attack: either the heart tissue dies off and so the heart can’t pump enough to keep the person alive, or the heart goes into a fatal heart rhythm, known as ventricular fibrillation. Both of these are not necessarily fatal, as emergency care can lessen their damage and save the person’s life.

How to Treat a Heart Attack

Did I mention that time is of the essence in treating a heart attack? Restoring the blood flow and treating the heart arrhythmias that happen as a result can save a person’s life. I need to make sure I mentioned this small fact: RESPONDING QUICKLY TO A HEART ATTACK CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE.

What can be done to save a person’s life? The first thing is something you can do at home. Take an aspirin; take two baby aspirin, which are 81 mg each, or a whole 325mg aspirin. Chewing it will make it enter your bloodstream faster. Aspirin has several effects that help fight a heart attack, the main one is to decrease the blood’s ability to clot.

Other medications, known as “clot busters” can break up clots and return normal blood flow. They can only be given at the hospital, which again, is why responding quickly to a heart attack can save your life. Dangerous heart rhythms can also be treated or prevented at the hospital.

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