I don’t know if you are a movie freak like me! I mean, I’m so big on movies and series especially those that are about health. I like to watch them because I learn so much from them. You’ll almost always catch me watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and it isn’t even a joke. My curious mind will never let me rest if I hear of any medical term or disease or something. I must research on it. I can’t help it, friends, that is just me (laughs). I watched a movie one time, and in the opening scene were two lovely daughters who had planned a surprise party for their dad. I was so in the mood that I even caught myself planning my next birthday party, I kid you not darling! There were joy and merry-making all over until suddenly, the man started to scream while holding his chest and then bam! he is on the floor. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. He died and the diagnosis from the doctor was a heart attack. In my mind, “here we go again”! What is this so-called heart attack that’s always interfering with happy moods. This wasn’t a first I had seen it in a movie. There’s always so much drama with that thing but I had never taken the time to find out what it was although I was privy to it. This time, my curious mind gave me a nudge and I had to promptly obey. I set on the path to discovering what the real fuss behind heart attacks are and it was an interesting journey. Sit down and relax while I pass on the knowledge I received to you in simple terms. So here’s what I found out:
Firstly, I was so shocked to discover that it isn’t a fuss at all neither is it a joke! Would you believe that about 7million people around the world die from heart attacks every year? It falls under the umbrella of Cardiovascular diseases. Some others are congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, stroke, among others. I’m sure you must be wondering how a heart attack happens then, just as I was. Well, I’ll tell you.
See how as humans, we cannot do away with oxygen and you’ll just die once you don’t have it or it isn’t enough? That is what happens with a heart attack per my discovery. The heart equally lives on oxygen and a heart attack happens when it doesn’t get enough oxygen. Something blocks the flow of blood to the heart. Fatty or cholesterol deposits form a thing called plaques on the walls of the coronary arteries which are the vessels that are responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to the heart. The arteries are partially closed and so when one of the plagues cracks, spills cholesterol and other substances into the bloodstream, it will lead to the formation of a blood clot and if it is very large, the artery will become completely blocked. When this happens, blood flow is interrupted and causes damage to the heart muscle and that is called a HEART ATTACK. Heart attack is also referred to as MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION. I guess this word looks as big in your eyes as they were in mine, not to talk of trying to pronounce it. Let’s break it down, shall we? Now, “Myo” means muscle, “Cardial” refers to the heart, and lastly “infarction” means the death of tissue because of lack of blood supply. A person may have a complete blockage which is referred to as ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction; STEMI for short or a partial blockage which is referred to as Non- ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction; NSTEMI for short.
These plagues grow as we age and that is why heart attacks mostly happen to men who are 45years and above, and in women, 55years and above. In the absence of treatment, things can deteriorate very quickly because the damaged muscle will fail to pump blood and in the worst-case scenario can cause sudden death.
We can all establish the fact that this is something that happens on the inside and so how can you, the third party tell when someone is having a heart attack?
Most often than not, the most common symptom which is one we see all the time is chest pain, which happens as a result of the muscle lacking oxygen. It doesn’t, just end there, the pain can also be felt in the jaw, back, arm or abdomen but it usually isn’t as sudden and dramatic as the movies portray. However, heart attack symptoms vary. Victims of heart attacks barely share the same symptoms or the severity of the symptoms. Some people experience excruciating pains, while others experience mild ones. Other people may show no symptoms at all. Some heart attacks do happen suddenly but many people just have warning signs and symptoms which may last for hours, days or even weeks in advance. The more signs you give, the greater the possibility that you’re having a heart attack. There are also symptoms like indigestion or that feeling of heartburns, fatigue, cold sweat, shortness of breath, nausea, cough, uneven heartbeat, sudden dizzy spells etc. There are also times where a heart attack may happen silently which is very dangerous. The silent heart attacks happens mostly among older people who are suffering from diabetes which usually affects the nerves that carry pain. Hence, they feel nothing! Do you see why I said it’s dangerous? How can anyone realise it then?
If you see someone who’s unconscious or you see anyone you think might be having a heart attack, act immediately! Do not delay at all! Call for medical help immediately and while you’re waiting for help to come, you can give the person an aspirin which will make the blood thin and so prevent it from clotting. However, be sure that aspirin can be taken by the person because they interrupt with other medications so if the person is on other drugs, it may not be healthy. You can also give the person nitroglycerin which will help to open up the artery and prevent the heart attack from getting worse. Another thing you can do while you wait for help is to check if the person is breathing and has a pulse. If the person isn’t breathing or there is no pulse, give CPR if you have been trained! Please, friends, do not attempt to give CPR if you haven’t been trained, lest you send someone to an early grave.
When the help arrives and the person is taken to the hospital, doctors use an electrocardiogram to measure the heart’s electrical activity and a blood test, to assess the gravity of the heart muscle damage. Then, a heart attack is diagnosed.
Certain factors are responsible for heart attacks being likely to happen to some people while it isn’t possible in others.
Smoking and the use of tobacco for a long period increases a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack. Over time, high blood pressure has also been a factor because it can damage the arteries and it’s even riskier if the person has other conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. As humans, one of the things that make us very healthy is physical activity or exercise; and people who don’t practice this are prone to a heart attack as well. Stress can also be a factor. It is quite funny and incredible to know that even a disease such as heart attack also practices racism because people of African descent have a higher risk! Amazing huh!
Now, let us go back to after the doctors diagnose the heart attack. They can either choose to undergo a surgical procedure or a non-surgical procedure depending on how grave the situation is. If they decide to go with the surgical procedure, they will send the person to a high-tech suite where several tests will be done to locate the blockages. The cardiologists will then inflate the blocked artery with a balloon to reopen it, and this procedure is called an Angioplasty. They can also choose to insert a metal or a stent that will hold the artery open. If the heart attack is more severe, they will go with a procedure called Heart bypass surgery where they will reroute the blood flow around the blockage using a piece of vein or artery from another part of the body. A pacemaker procedure; where a device is implanted beneath the skin to help the heart maintain a normal rhythm can also be undertaken. These procedures re-establish circulations to the cardiac muscle, restoring heart function. However, when all these are not feasible or fail because the tissue death is extremely serious, a heart transplant will be required.
Although these procedures can be undertaken to treat a heart attack, there is an adage that, “Prevention is better than cure”. Just as there are factors that can increase one’s risk of suffering a heart attack, lifestyle factors can also aid in preventing a person from suffering a heart attack in the first place. Exercise, a healthy diet and weight will lower your risk of heart attacks whether you’ve been a victim before or not. A healthy diet is a diet that is low in sugar and saturated fats which are both linked to heart disease. Instead, you should eat rich in fibre foods like vegetables, and lean meats such as chicken and fish instead of red meat, whole grains and nuts. Avoid smoking and manage stress properly as well. This shouldn’t be hard to do right? After all, it is better to eat to live than to live to eat. If you have been a victim of a heart attack before, subsequent heart attacks can be reduced and help your heart function better if you continue to take medications that have been prescribed by your doctor.
Heart attacks may be common but they do not have to be inevitable. Recovery may take a while depending on how severe it is and other factors such as the cause and the age of the person. With immediate treatment, there is a good chance of total recovery.
Now, before I end my long exposition on heart attacks, I believe it will be good of me to establish the fact that, although both of them are medical emergencies, a heart attack is not another name for CARDIAC ARREST as a lot of people think. Heart attacks can lead to cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops working completely, and that is the difference.
I’ll end here but oh, I forgot to add that, laugh a lot, get plenty of rest and sleep, practice the prevention methods so that you can ensure that the most vital muscle of your body is healthy and keeps on beating.
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