Heart attack, heart attack or myocardial infarction is often a life-threatening and acute disease of the heart. This leads to death (infarction) of heart tissue or heart muscle (myocardium). The following circulatory disorder (ischemia) leads to the known myocardial infarction.

What is a heart attack?

Infogram on the anatomy and causes of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack. Click on the image to enlarge.

A heart attack is a disease of the heart that is life threatening to humans. This is colloquially referred to as a heart attack or myocardial infarction. In human medicine the abbreviation AMI (so-called acute myocardial infarction) is used for the heart attack. But what exactly does a heart attack mean? A part of the heart muscle (so-called myocardium) dies by the closure of one of the three coronary vessels.

This is due to a circulatory disorder that regularly occurs over a period of more than 20 minutes. Mostly, this happens through a blood clot that clogs one of the coronary arteries in a heart attack. The blood can no longer circulate there. The consequence is an interruption of the oxygen and nutrient supply to the heart. If it is not possible to reopen this occlusion of the heart muscle, the part of the heart muscle that was supposed to be supplied by this vessel dies.


But what are the causes of a heart attack? In industrialized countries, such heart disease is becoming more common. Relative to Germany, about 250, 000 people suffer a heart attack every year. As many as 50 percent of these newly-ill patients die within four weeks after suffering a heart attack.

Various risk factors favor a disease of the heart muscle: for example, overweight, lack of exercise, but also the consumption of nicotine. Other age-independent factors may be: diabetes mellitus (diabetes), high blood pressure or even a family history (especially heart disease in close blood relatives).

A further increasing risk factor is the stress level. Sudden stress and / or extreme stress situations that result in a large fluctuation in blood pressure can trigger a heart attack. About 40 percent of all heart attacks are registered in the morning (in a period of 6 to 10 o'clock) and above all on Mondays.

Symptoms, complaints & signs

Characteristic of a heart attack are sudden pains behind the sternum, which rapidly increase in intensity and last for a long time. Often, the pain radiates to the left arm (rarely the right), shoulder, upper abdomen or lower jaw.

In addition, chest tightness, shortness of breath, often dizziness, unconsciousness, nausea, and vomiting typically occur. The patient is pale and cold-sweaty, he suffers from severe agitation to dread. The level of blood pressure does not allow a safe conclusion to a heart attack: it may decrease due to limited heart activity, but also increased due to an increased release of stress hormones.

In women, a heart attack often manifests itself less conspicuously and is therefore recognized in many cases not or too late as such. Chest pain occurs less often, mostly breathlessness, a feeling of pressure in the chest area, nausea and vomiting in the foreground. Patients often complain of pain in the upper abdomen, which is often misinterpreted as a stomach complaint. Even behind a fainting spell without further symptoms, a heart attack can hide.

For both sexes, respiratory distress, chest pain, and tightness of the chest, which may have been present for a long time before infarction, may indicate an incipient circulatory disturbance of the heart.


Often, a heart attack is based on a narrowing of the coronary arteries, which is called arteriosclerosis. If such a constriction is blocked by a blood clot, all subsequent heart muscle areas are no longer supplied with blood and Saueratoff.

How do I recognize the occurrence of a heart attack? In most cases, the occurrence of a heart attack manifests itself through chest pain of varying strength and quality, depending on how the diseased person feels. The sensation of heavy pressure behind the sternum or a sense of tightness (restraint) throughout the thoracic area are typical signs of a heart attack.

The perceived pain usually affects the left arm, shoulder, neck, upper abdomen or back. In most cases, this pain persists for more than 20 minutes.

Concomitants of a heart attack are often sweating, nausea or even vomiting. The occurrence of dangerous cardiac arrhythmias in the so-called acute phase of a heart attack make even minor infarctions life-threatening.

Especially in women, there are other symptoms of heart attack: shortness of breath, general weakness, upset stomach, and physical fatigue.


The heart attack causes very serious and life-threatening symptoms and complications that often lead to death of the patient. As a rule, the life expectancy of the person affected is greatly reduced even after the treatment of myocardial infarction. The other symptoms depend heavily on how long after the infarction treatment occurs.

Early treatment minimizes the risk of irreversible sequelae. The sufferer suffers from heart attack in severe pain in the chest and anxiety. It comes to sweats and panic attacks. Not infrequently, those affected vomit and lose consciousness. This can lead to serious injuries due to a fall.

In the further course of the infarct, damage to the brain and death of tissue throughout the body occurs. As a result, regions in the brain can be irreversibly damaged and organs can die. The damage in the brain then leads to limitations in the thinking and actions of the patient and, if necessary, restrictions on movement. Treatment is by medication or surgery. Not infrequently, however, the heart attack leads to the death of the patient, if the treatment can not be initiated early enough.

When should you go to the doctor?

Since a heart attack is a medical emergency, an emergency medical service should be alerted immediately when it occurs. The person concerned floats in an acute mortal danger, which makes immediate action necessary. Without a quick and professional medical care of the patient it comes within a short time to its demise.

Until the arrival of the emergency doctor, the instructions of the ambulance service must be followed to ensure the survival of the patient. In particular, sufficient ventilation must be ensured so that the consequential damage is minimized. It is advisable, however, to consult a physician already in the case of warning signs of a heart attack.

If the sufferer suffers from tachycardia, hypertension or circulatory disorders over an extended period of time, they must be examined and checked in good time. For pain in the chest or a pull in the left upper arm a medical clarification of the complaints should be made. If the person feels unwell, complains of a general malaise or persistent weakness, it is advisable to see a doctor.

A follow-up examination is recommended if the usual level of performance is lost, if there is a marked decline in physical ability or if you feel burned. If it comes to sleep problems, concentration problems or disorders of attention, a doctor is to be consulted. A feeling of pressure in the chest is considered unusual and should be examined.

Treatment & Therapy

Stinging or tearing pains are described by most patients during a heart attack .

But even after a heart attack, various treatment options are available, all of which have the goal (should) to relieve the damaged heart muscle, as well as to avoid further expansion of the infarction and restore blood circulation. Of course, the following treatment methods can also be combined with each other to increase the result:

1. Blood-thinning therapy (aspirin and heparin are often used).

2. Beta blockers that lead to direct relief of the heart muscle.

3. medicines to lower blood pressure, painkillers, sedatives.

4. The opening of the closed by the heart attack vessel can be done by the so-called lysis therapy or by the balloon dilatation with the help of a cardiac catheterization.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of a heart attack is tied to the time of medical care. In most cases, the patient must be treated immediately in emergency and intensive care to ensure survival. The risk of death is very high in a heart attack. With increasing age, the death rate increases immensely. Patients over the age of 75 are three times more likely to die than average adults.

In addition, it usually comes through a heart attack to lifelong impairments and health complaints. In addition to paralysis, dysfunctions and mental stress, it can lead to the loss of a job and severe restrictions on the usual lifestyle. The general way of life has to be changed and adapted to the circumstances of the patient.

The medical care in the first two hours after the heart attack are crucial for the further course. If it is possible to stop the ventricular fibrillation and correct the cardiac arrhythmia, the patient has a good long-term prognosis.

If heart failure develops or permanent damage to the coronary arteries develops, the prognosis worsens. Within two years of a heart attack, approximately 5-10% of patients die of sudden cardiac death. With a healthy lifestyle, optimal nutrition and avoidance of stress, the prospect improves.


How can you reduce or prevent the risk of a heart attack? The following points can significantly reduce the risk of a heart attack:

1. One should measure (let) his blood pressure regularly. In particular, adults over the age of 40 years should have their blood pressure checked at least once a year. High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart. Values ​​below 130 to 80 are considered good.

2. You should eat healthy. A conscious and healthy diet reduces the risk of a heart attack. Saturated fatty acids, especially in animal products such as butter, without, pork, etc., should be avoided as they increase blood cholesterol.

3. You should do enough exercise. In particular, light sports of endurance such as Nordic walking, cycling or swimming reduce the risk of infarction.

4. If you are overweight, you should lower this excess weight. Already 10 kilos too much have a negative impact on our health, both blood pressure and blood lipid levels increase.

5. You should give yourself a smoking ban. Six cigarettes a day already double the risk of a heart attack, so keep your fingers away!

6. Avoid stress as much as possible. Basically, the body withstands stressful situations, but you should not overdo it here, as these can lead to hypertension.


The most important thing to do after a heart attack is to avoid further attacks. The patient must be aware that the underlying disease that caused the heart attack is still present. The main cause is usually atherosclerosis. However, this affects not only the heart, but the vessels of the entire body. The elimination of risk factors is therefore one of the most important goals in the aftercare of a heart attack.

In most cases, a fundamental change in the way of life is necessary. The fact that smoking may have to be given up comes first here. Smoking also causes a narrowing of the already loaded vessels and is considered a risk factor number 1. Sport and exercise ensure that the body has a better metabolic result.

Last but not least, a balanced and healthy diet after a heart attack is important. From a medical point of view, the blood values ​​should be kept in mind, especially the cholesterol levels should be checked regularly. If high blood pressure has also been diagnosed, it should be adjusted according to the medication, otherwise it may lead to further vascular damage.

Also, diabetes controls should be done by the attending physician. By excluding the risk factors, the risk of a renewed heart attack is minimized, however, the patient must always be aware that the underlying disease persists and the measures mentioned are consistently incorporated into his everyday life.

You can do that yourself

An acute heart attack is a life-threatening situation in which the emergency doctor must be called immediately. However, patients can contribute to the fact that it does not come so far and consult a doctor at the first early warning signs.

A heart attack is almost always announced. Often sufferers have chest pain, which is described as oppressive and feel a strong pressure behind the breastbone. At the latest when the pain begins to radiate into the left arm or shoulder, a doctor should be consulted. Women often experience slightly different symptoms. The pain in the chest is accompanied by shortness of breath, upset stomach and a feeling of general exhaustion.

Heart attack is still a masculine disease, which is why many doctors underestimate the risk in women. Patients who observe the symptoms described should therefore explicitly point out the possibility of a heart attack. This applies in particular if the person belongs to a risk group or other family members have already suffered a heart attack.

Risks that significantly increase the risk of heart attack include unhealthy lifestyles, especially overweight, lack of physical activity, over-consumption of animal products (meat, cured meats, fatty cheeses, butter, cream) and regular high alcohol and nicotine consumption, The avoidance of these risk factors is the best self-help measure against heart attack dar. Who suffers from high blood pressure, should also regularly have this controlled by a doctor.

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