A New Take on Heart Attacks

Understanding how a heart attack occurs and what leads to permanent damage or even fatalities during a heart attack is important for those at an increased risk of the medical emergency. New research has shed light on what happens during a heart attack and how permanent damage can be prevented.

What is a Heart Attack?

The Mayo Clinic explains that blockage of the flow of blood to the heart can lead to a heart attack. This blockage of the coronary artery results in damage to the heart muscle as constant blood flow is necessary to maintain the health of the heart. The scope of the damage is dependent on the amount of time the heart is deprived of blood and can result in permanent destruction of part of the heart muscle.

Fatalities that are related to heart attacks are generally a result of the patient’s failure to seek medical assistance as quickly as possible. Many of the symptoms that are observed during a heart attack can be associated with less severe medical issues and lead sufferers to believe that medical attention is not immediately necessary. Technological advances have made it possible to treat heart attack and give patients a high change of survival if medical attention is sought in a timely manner. It is important not to ignore any of the symptoms listed below that may be indicative of a heart attack.

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Sweating that is not brought on by physical exertion
  • Nausea that may be accompanied by vomiting

Recent Increases in Heart Attack Statistics

One of the leading causes for suffering from a heart attack is obesity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported a record 35.7 percent rate of obesity in adults in the United States. As obesity can be directly correlated to an increased risk of heart attack, it should come as no surprise that the rate of heart attacks suffered in the United States has increased with the weight of adult Americans.

WebMD lists heart attack risk factors that may be associated with obesity. For example, having a high ratio of LDL cholesterol as compared to HDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart attack and is common in people who are obese. Other risk factors related to lifestyle include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and diabetes.

Former Misconceptions Regarding the Causes of Heart Attacks

Fatalities related to heart attack used to be believed to be solely due to cells in the heart being deprived of oxygen for a long period of time. The belief was that these cells died after a certain amount of oxygen deprivation. The death of too many cells was presumed to be the cause of death in the person.

Because a lack of oxygen was directly tied to damage suffered by a heart attack patient, doctors often gave patients an oxygen mask to attempt to keep blood oxygenated. However, ScienceDaily reports that researchers have found evidence that may indicate that receiving oxygen during a heart attack could actually increase a patient’s risk of dying.

Preventing and reducing damage caused by a heart attack is dependent on the use of a process known as reperfusion. This process is intended to gradually open up a blocked artery to allow blood to properly flow to the heart. Medication may be given to a patient suffering from a heart attack to prevent blood from clotting or to clear a clot that has already formed. This medication is intended to open up the artery and prevent lasting damage.

New Methods of Saving Patients Following a Heart Attack

It used to be difficult to save a patient who had suffered a heart attack if medical treatment was not quickly sought to prevent severe and permanent damage. Fortunately, there are medical advances available today that make it possible for patients to survive a heart attack even if medical assistance was not sought immediately following the onset of symptoms.

  • Hypothermia has been used as a treatment: ABC News discusses the use of this innovative treatment for a patient who had suffered a heart attack and had been oxygen deprived for several minutes. Undergoing the hypothermic treatment while doctors were working on resuscitating him is believed to have prevented the patient from suffering any long term neurological damage.The procedure involves lowering the core body temperature of the patient to approximately 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the patient in this state can prevent permanent brain damage from occurring while the patient’s brain is not receiving oxygen. The patient’s body temperature is very gradually returned to normal following treatment to make sure that there is no lasting damage from experiencing hypothermia. Doctors estimate that the use of hypothermia could cut the number of heart attack fatalities in half.
  • Although the treatment option is not currently available, researchers have recently made progress in learning how stem cells could be used to repair damage done to a patient’s heart during a heart attack: The Guardian reports that researchers have successfully grown beating heart cells from stem cells that have been sourced from heart attack patients. Scientists note that sourcing these cells from the patient means that there is a very high chance that the body will accept the new cells. The research process has currently proven the ability to grow the cells and implant them successfully into laboratory rats, but the safety of implanting cells into human patients has not yet been determined.The possibilities of this new cell growth involve reversing damage done during a heart attack. Further research may allow patients to recover from a heart attack even if medical treatment was not received in a timely manner.