A heart attack occur when the muscle of the heart is damaged by blockage of one of its fuel pipes ; the fuel is oxygen carried in the blood, and the pipes are the arteries; in the case of the heart they are called coronary arteries. These arteries may become narrowed and this may eventually lead to a complete blockage. That part of the heart muscle supplied by a blocked artery will be irreversibly damaged and although this may not necessarily cause any problems with the heart pumping action, there may be a variety of short-term problems which can be potentially serious. For this reason, patients are best nursed in hospital where they can be under continuous observation for the first few days.
The damaged muscle may be electrically unstable, giving rise to an irregular and sometimes problematic heart beat rhythm. In Coronary Care Units this rhythm is carefully monitored by doctors and nurses capable of recognizing potentially serious heart beat rhythms and capable of starting treatment before serious problems occur.
The heart muscle deprived of its blood supply dies and eventually heals leaving only a scar, in much the same way as a broken leg heals. There is usually no long term malfunction of the heart, but during the healing phase it is best to avoid stressing the heart unnecessarily.
I had a bad chest pain but it did not last so long. Was it a heart attack ?
If it was a similar tight central pain but of short duration it might have been due to a temporary reduction in blood supply thought one of the coronary arteries rather than a complete and permanent blockage. The heart muscle is then not damaged permanently and no “heart attack” occurs. The temporary inadequacy of blood flow produces a very similar pain, although it is likely to be less severe and will not last very long-perhaps minutes rather than hours. This type of pain is commonly called “angina”.
This pain may be brought on by anything that makes the heart beat faster and stronger ; this stress may be physical or emotional, both causing a liberation of adrenaline into the blood stream which leads to a faster and stronger heart beat. This extra work requires more fuel-more oxygen and hence more blood – and this, of course, does not happen when the blood supply is restricted. Many of the treatments for this condition are designed to limit this increase in heart rate and strength of contraction.