What Is Heart Attack?

When the blood flow to the heart is blocked, usually because fats and cholesterol have created an excess of plaque buildup in the coronary arteries, you can experience a heart attack.

A heart attack can be fatal – but there are many steps you can take and excellent treatments available to help prevent a heart attack.

What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Not everyone experiences a heart attack the same way – there are multiple symptoms and varying degrees at which you can experience those symptoms.

With each of the following symptoms, understand that you could have mild symptoms over the course of a few days or suddenly experience a cardiac arrest. Be on the lookout for any one or all of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain or discomfort, ranging from mild to severe.
  • Pain in your shoulders, arms, chest, neck or jaw.
  • Stomach pain, which may spread and feel like heartburn.
  • Anxiety.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweating and cold, clammy skin.

Many heart attacks begin with slight, subtle symptoms. For example, you may have occasional but regular chest discomfort. Regardless of the severity of your symptoms, you must seek medical attention immediately.

Diagnosis of Heart Attack

Once you report your symptoms to your physician, you will undergo a physical exam and report your medical history. You may also go through a series of tests which can include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): checks the electric activity of your heart.
  • Echocardiogram (ECHO): A sonogram of your heart to determine the condition of your heart valves, how well your heart pumps and any issues with your heart muscle.
  • Blood tests to determine levels of enzymes in your system.  

Once a detailed diagnosis is reached, your physician will determine the best treatment options for you. A heart attack or potential heart attack may indicate cardiovascular disease.

Treatment at Penn

Medications and lifestyle changes may be all you need to help you control your condition.

If you are showing signs of cardiovascular disease and you require an implantable device or surgery, know that Penn is a national leader in heart disease treatment and heart transplantation. Penn Medicine's specialized cardiologists and surgeons offer medical therapies not available at other centers and perform more heart transplants per year than all of the regional heart transplant centers combined.

When you choose Penn, you choose to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and heart surgeons who continue to lead the field, advancing the science of heart transplantation.

Penn Programs & Services for Heart Attack

Physician and patient discussing care
Primary Cardiology

Offers patients with cardiovascular disease the highest level of medical expertise

Scientist staring at vials
Preventive Cardiovascular

Specializing in the assessment and management of patients who at risk for heart disease

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