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Explained: Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, and Heart Failure

By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 09 November 2020

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Proper functioning of the heart, the organ responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, is essential to life. But heart diseases such as heart attack, cardiac arrest, and heart failure affect the heart’s ability to work effectively. Lack of timely treatment resulting from the lack of awareness is the major cause of heart condition-related deaths. Understanding and recognizing the symptoms of various heart conditions can save lives through immediate medical intervention. This article discusses three common and major types of heart conditions, their causes, symptoms and when to seek urgent medical attention.

Heart Attack

Heart attack, medically termed as myocardial infarction, occurs when blood flow to the heart is cut off or significantly reduced, causing damage of the heart muscle. During a heart attack, the heart does not receive oxygen-rich blood because of a blockage in the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart.

Causes of a heart attack

Coronary artery disease is the predominant cause of heart attack. It is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is caused when substances in the blood like cholesterol, fat and calcium build up on the inner walls of the arteries. This build-up, called plaque, hardens and narrows the arteries obstructing the blood flow to the heart.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Heart attack symptoms may vary from person to person. They may start gradually and be seen for hours, days, or weeks before a heart attack occurs. Though the heart continues to beat, it may not receive enough oxygen-rich blood because of the blockage in the coronary arteries. Common symptoms include:
  • Pressure, tightness, heaviness, or squeezing pain in the middle of the chest
  • Pain that radiates to the jaw, arms, or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fainting, light-headedness, or dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
Others include indigestion issues such as nausea and vomiting, extreme anxiety, and bluish lips, hands, or feet. Most people experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or tiredness, days or weeks before a heart attack occurs.

What needs to be done in case of a heart attack

  • The first response should be to get emergency help – call an ambulance or take the patient to the nearest hospital.
  • If the patient is conscious, they can take a normal dose of aspirin (if they are not allergic) to slow blood clots and prevent blockages in the artery. The aspirin must be chewed and then swallowed with water for best results.
  • Perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if the patient has lost consciousness until medical help has arrived. If the person attending the patient has not received CPR training, doctors recommend performing only chest compressions (about 100 to 120 compressions a minute).
Once at the hospital, doctors will take the best course of action and provide medical treatments to the patient.

Cardiac Arrest

It is a condition that occurs when the heart suddenly stops functioning. When the heart stops pumping blood, the brain is starved of oxygen, and the person falls unconscious and stops breathing. This condition can lead to death and hence, requires immediate medical attention.

Causes of cardiac arrest

A cardiac arrest occurs due to abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias caused by problems with electrical impulses that co-ordinate heartbeats. It can occur in a person with no heart issues. However, a few pre-existing conditions related to the heart could lead to a cardiac arrest and these include:
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cardiomyopathy caused by thickening and enlargement of the heart tissue
  • Valvular heart disease caused by damage in one of the four valves of the heart
  • Congenital heart diseases
  • Myocarditis caused by infection and inflammation of the heart tissue

Symptoms of cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest can occur without any warning signs. The person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest may:
  • Collapse suddenly
  • Become unresponsive and unconscious
  • Stop breathing
Recent research reports that many cardiac arrest patients experience signs like chest pain and discomfort, palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, and back pain. And these symptoms may show up for a month before the occurrence of a cardiac arrest.

What needs to be done in case of a cardiac arrest

As the heart stops beating during a cardiac arrest, vital organs like the brain are deprived of oxygen that may cause death or permanent damage to the brain immediately. A cardiac arrest can be reversed if treatment is provided within a few minutes.
Immediate actions to be taken include:
  • Calling for emergency medical help.
  • Performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if the patient has lost consciousness until medical help has arrived. If the person attending the patient has not received CPR training, doctors recommend performing only chest compressions (about 100 to 120 compressions a minute).
  • A portable defibrillator can be used if it is handily available and somebody around knows how to operate it.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. The heart’s pumping action delivers oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body’s cells, which keeps them nourished. In heart failure, the weakened heart cannot supply the cells with enough oxygenated blood, resulting in affected persons experiencing fatigue and weakness.

Symptoms of heart failure

The clinical manifestations of heart failure include:
  • Fatigue
  • Limitation in physical activity
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the legs, thighs, and ankles

Causes of heart failure

A heart failure usually develops due to conditions that have damaged or weakened the heart or when the heart muscle stiffens. The conditions that impair the heart’s pumping ability, leading to heart failure include:
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Disorders of the heart valves

What needs to be done in case of a heart failure

Heart failure is not a medical emergency as it occurs over a period of time. However, timely treatment is the key to manage the condition.

Conclusion

While each of these three heart conditions is different in terms of severity and symptoms, there are generally early warning and subtle signs that start to show up long before a complication or irreversible damage has occurred. It is therefore important that people recognize such symptoms and consult their doctor in the first instance, and without any delay. Healthy adults should get regular heart screenings as advised by their doctors, which will help to keep the heart strong and healthy.
Talk to a cardiologist if you have any questions related to heart health.

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