Heart Attack

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911.

What is it?

A heart attack happens when the blood supply to your heart suddenly becomes blocked. If the blood supply is not restored quickly, part of the heart muscle will die due to lack of oxygen.

The technical term for a heart attack is a myocardial infarction.

The term "heart attack" should not be confused with "heart failure." Heart failure is a chronic condition in which your heart can no longer pump enough blood for your body's needs. For more information, read our page on heart failure.

Over one million Americans have a heart attack each year, with nearly half of those people dying as a result.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of a heart attack can vary a great deal from person to person. If you think you may be having a heart attack but aren't certain, it is best to call 911.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain, either mild or severe.
  • Squeezing pressure in the upper body.
  • Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Nausea or indigestion.
  • Vomiting.
  • Lightheadedness or fainting.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat.

How is it treated?

There are several methods that are used to treat patients who are having a heart attack.

Angioplasty and stent placement. A thin catheter is inserted through a blood vessel in your thigh and threaded up to the blocked artery. A tiny balloon is then used to open up the blockage. A stent—a miniature wire tube—is then placed in the blood vessel to hold it open and allow blood to flow normally.

Coronary artery bypass surgery. In this surgery, a blood vessel is taken from another part of your body and used to go around—or bypass—the blocked coronary artery. This surgery is often called "open heart surgery". Coronary artery bypass surgery is often used for patients with more severe blockages or those with several blockages.

Clot-busting drugs. In some cases, patients may be treated with thrombolytic therapy, or clot-busting drugs. These medications are given through an IV and do not involve surgery.

What is URMC's approach?

The recovery from a heart attack depends upon how fast it is treated. An important measure of a heart center is its "door-to-balloon time"—the time from when a patient with a heart attack arrives in the emergency department until that person's coronary artery is re-opened with a balloon catheter.

At URMC, we have analyzed and refined our whole process to reduce our door-to-balloon time to under 90 minutes, beating the national standard. Also, our Heart Attack Team is on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Our speed in treating heart attacks places us in the top 10% of all hospitals in the USA.

We also have advanced procedures to help patients who have suffered severe heart attacks. We are one of the few heart centers in the country that has the ability to use temporary heart pumps to help a patient's heart through the period of most intense shock.

Who should I contact?

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911.


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