Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked, most often by a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the coronary arteries. The interrupted blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle. Restoring that blood flow quickly is key to preventing permanent damage... and to surviving.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, and it will be obvious what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.

Knowing the warning signs of a heart attack could save your life!

  • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain, pressure or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat

For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. Women often have other or additional symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain.

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911. Don’t delay! Minutes matter! An ambulance is almost always the fastest and safest way to get to the hospital. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin tests and treatment when they arrive.

Mercy will be here for you in this or any other life-and-death situation. Our cardiac staff will immediately determine if you’re having a heart attack and take all the steps necessary to limit any further damage. Our heart care team will develop a specific treatment plan for you with lifestyle changes that can keep your heart healthy.

How is a heart attack treated?

If you go to the hospital in an ambulance, treatment will be started right away to restore blood flow and limit damage to the heart. You may be given:

  • Aspirin and other medicines to prevent blood clots
  • Medicines that break up blood clots
  • Medicines to decrease the heart's workload and ease pain

At the hospital, you may receive:

  • Angioplasty – a catheter is threaded up to a blocked artery and a tiny balloon is inflated expanded the artery. Often a stent is placed to keep the artery open.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft surgery – to bypass a narrowed or blocked artery using a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body
  • Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) – treatment, education and support to help you to manage symptoms and make healthy choices

Preventing a Heart Attack

The biggest risk factor for a heart attack is coronary artery disease. By living a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can help slow or prevent coronary artery disease, lowering your risk of a heart attack.

Download a Heart-Healthy Guide

Learn about heart disease risk factors, management and general heart health.

Enjoy New Heart-Healthy Recipes

Discover new recipes that are good for the heart and the palate.

Download Our Heart Disease Infographic

Learn more about lowering your risk.

Eating for Your Heart

Discover 10 simple tips you heart will love.


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