Heart attacks are described by medical terms such as myocardial infarction (MI) or acute coronary syndrome (ACS). The latter, ACS, describes both a heart attack and unstable angina (chest pain), which is a warning sign that blood flow to your heart is being cut off. Your heart is a muscle and blood carries vital oxygen and nutrients to it. Without blood, the heart muscle begins to die. That is why every second counts when it comes to heart attack treatment.
A heart attack results when a complete occlusion suddenly forms in the arteries that supply blood to your heart – the coronary arteries. Blockages are caused by a disease called atherosclerosis, in which plaque – a fatty substance – builds up in the arteries. This plaque narrows the arteries, leaving less room for blood to flow. Alternatively, part of the plaque may break off and flow downstream in the blood. This piece of plaque can then lodge in a narrowed portion of the artery and blood will begin to clot around it. This blood clot (thrombosis) can partially or completely cut off blood flow through an artery.
An extensive blockage, especially in a major blood vessel, can cause a large heart attack. Large heart attacks that are not treated early and aggressively can lead to heart failure. Heart failure symptoms usually develop over weeks and months as your heart becomes weaker and less able to pump the blood that your body needs. The risk of death within five years of being diagnosed with certain types of heart failure can be 50 percent or more – higher than many forms of cancer. That’s why it’s important to go to the hospital whenever you are having symptoms that might indicate a heart attack.