Heart Attack, Angina (or chest pain), Atherosclerosis, and Ischemic Heart Disease all share the same basic underlying cause. These forms of heart disease occur when the heart muscle does not get as much oxygen as it needs. When one of the arteries that feeds the heart muscle (coronary artery) becomes blocked, the blockage prevents oxygen rich blood from reaching a section of heart muscle. If too large a portion of the heart muscle dies, a person will become severely disabled or die. Blockages occur due to calcium rich plaque or blood clots that break off on their way through the coronary artery. Blockages may also occur due to “spasm” of the coronary artery, in which there is no blockage; the artery clamps down and won’t relax to let blood flow through it. This type of heart disease is diagnosed by EKG, Stress test, and Angiogram.

Classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, generally described as squeezing, pressure, or “an elephant sitting on my chest”. This pain may travel to other upper body areas, such as arms, jaw, neck or back. Some people get short of breath, feel faint, feel nauseated, and get cold and clammy. Women’s symptoms may not be as severe or easy to recognize as men’s. If you have any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 or get to an emergency department immediately. The chances of survival of a heart attack are greater the sooner treatment is started. Rural areas work with larger facilities to immediately make a correct diagnosis, provide clot-busting medications, and transfer to a cardiologist to open the blood clots further and to implant stents, if needed.

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