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Are You at Risk?

What you need to know about Heart Attack and Cardiovascular Disease

According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease is America's No. 1 killer. That's why it's so important to reduce your risk factors, know the warning signs, and know how to respond quickly and effectively if warning signs occur.

What is a Heart Attack?

Warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the chest lasting more than a few minutes
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath

If you notice one or more of these signs, don't wait!
Call 911 and seek emergency medical help immediately!

A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, is permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by a lack of blood supply to the heart (ischemia) for an extended time period. The severity of damage varies from normal, mild, to severe.

A heart attack can also occur from a spasm in a coronary artery. During a spasm, the coronary arteries constrict or spasm on and off, causing a lack of blood supply to the heart muscle. It may occur at rest and can even occur in people without significant coronary artery disease. If coronary artery spasm occurs for a long period of time, a heart attack can occur.

Each coronary artery supplies blood to a region of the heart muscle. If an artery is occluded (blocked) there is no blood supply to that region. The amount of damage to the heart muscle depends on the size of the area supplied by the blocked artery and the time between injury and treatment. Rapid treatment to open the blockage is critical to lessen the amount of damage.

The heart muscle begins to heal shortly after a heart attack and takes about 8 weeks. Scarring occurs in the damaged area of the heart. The new scar tissue does not pump as well as healthy heart muscle tissue. The amount of lost pumping ability depends on the size and location of the scar.

Heart and Cardiovascular Disease 

Heart disease is any disorder that affects the heart's ability to function normally. Cardiovascular disease is commonly thought of as the narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart, or coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is one of many conditions affecting the structures or function of the heart and blood vessels. In addition to coronary artery disease, cardiovascular diseases also include heart failure, heart valve diseases, heart rhythm disturbances/arrhythmias and peripheral vascular diseases.

Risk factors include:

  • Increasing age
  • Family history and race
  • Diabetes
  • Prior smoke/second-hand smoke
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholosterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Cigarette or tobacco smoke

Take our Risk Factors Quiz to see if you're at risk.  

Learn more:


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