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Health Corners
Acquired Heart Diseases

These are not defects from birth but problems acquired in a person’s lifetime due to various factors.

The most common among acquired heart diseases are:

Coronary Artery Disease

A Heart Attack

What is a heart attack?

The death of heart muscle is a heart attack. In medical terms it is called Myocardial Infarction (MI).

A block in the artery impedes the supply of blood to the heart. The heart is deprived of oxygen, so crucial for its functioning. This causes the death of heart muscle.

What happens before a heart attack?

The heart performs important functions like pumping oxygenated blood to the rest of the body and sending the impure blood from the rest of the body to the lungs for purification. To perform these functions, the heart needs a supply of blood. This is provided by the coronary arteries.

When a person has Coronary Heart Disease the arteries become narrow due to deposits on the inner walls. The blood flow to the heart is reduced. This may eventually result in a portion of the heart being suddenly deprived of its blood supply leading to the death of that area of heart tissue, resulting in a heart attack.

Who is at risk?

You are at risk if any of the following pertain to you

  • A high level of cholesterol in the blood
  • Chronic diabetes
  • Chronic hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • A family history of atherosclerosis
  • Obesity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • A sedentary lifestyle
Men are more at risk than women.

Classic Symptoms of a Heart Attack

The typical symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Pain or a sense of compression or tightness in the middle of the chest.
  • This pain is felt in the central chest and may sometimes radiate down the left arm, to the jaw or to the back.
  • The pain is usually aggravated by exercise and relieved by rest, though variant forms may occur
  • The pain may be accompanied by sweating.

But often pain may not be so specific.

  • Pain may not seem critical.
  • Pain may be present in the back, abdomen, shoulders, or arms.
  • Nausea and vomiting, or merely a feeling of heartburn, may be the only symptom.

What should you do when you experience these symptoms?

  • Get yourself to a hospital at once. ( Don’t keep waiting, hoping the pain will subside)
  • Take an aspirin
  • Do not drive
  • Try to rest, and stay anxiety free till you can get medical help.

What is the emergency treatment that is given?

If the patient reaches a hospital within three to six hours, he can get the best chance of minimising damage to the heart. It will help avert possible fatality.

A clot-busting drug can help dissolving the clot and help the circulation of blood thereby save heart muscle from damage. Read more on clot busters

What Happens after a heart attack?

After a heart attack the patient needs to be monitored for a couple of days when ECG and Echo tests are taken at periodic intervals.

  • When a large portion of the heart muscle dies, the patient can develop heart failure. The heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. The risk of death is high. Emergency surgery may be performed.
  • When not much of the muscle is affected, heart failure does not occur immediately.

However there are changes in the heart.

  • Some portion of the muscle has died and natural healing process begins in the heart.
  • Because some part of the muscle is dead, there is more pressure on the rest of the muscle to work. The efficiency of the heart may reduce.

About two weeks after the heart attack, the cardiologist advises the patient to take a test called “coronary angiography”. This is the most direct form of assessing the damage, but it is also an invasive procedure. This test reveals the extent to which the coronary artery disease has progressed. That is, it becomes clear where and to what extent the patient’s coronary arteries are blocked. Using this information, the doctor decides on whether surgical intervention is necessary, or if the patient can be put on diet and medication to control the progress of the coronary artery disease.

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