What is a heart attack?

Joanne Carey, MHA, RN, RHIA
Cardiovascular Registries Coordinator

This week long-time game show host, Alex Trebek, found his heart health in jeopardy. Trebek is recovering in a Los Angeles hospital after a heart attack, but what is a heart attack?

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction or MI, occurs when oxygen-rich blood that normally circulates with each heartbeat is blocked from reaching all parts of the heart muscle. The “attack” is acute pain caused by a blood clot or fatty deposits building over time and blocking blood flow. The pain is sometimes described as an elephant on the chest, though it may be more subtle, such as shoulder or neck pain that radiates down the arms.

Keep your heart healthy!If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be having a heart attack.

  • Chest discomfort, such as a pressure sensation, squeezing, fullness or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • A cold sweat
  • Nausea

What can you do if you think you or someone you love is having a heart attack? Call 911 immediately so your local emergency medical services team (EMS) can transport you to a hospital like Durham Regional with a 24/7 Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.

Note: Not all chest pain is a heart attack, but it is important to be mindful of changes to your health and seek assistance.

To learn more about our heart services, visit durhamregional.org/heart.

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