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How to recognize the signs of a massive heart attack – and prevent yourself from having one

Park Nicollet cardiologist explains what can cause a STEMI and the keys to surviving heart disease


By Pawan Hari, MBBS, MPH
May 8, 2018

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About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. That’s 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And it makes heart disease the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Unfortunately, having a heart attack is very common among Americans. There are different kinds of heart attacks. And every year, about 790,000 of us suffer one type or another.

What is a STEMI?

One type of heart attack is called a STEMI. It stands for ST-elevation myocardial infarction. With this type of heart attack, a patient’s heartbeat is off because blood supply to a large portion of the heart is blocked for an extended period of time. Major artery blockage means oxygen and nutrient-rich blood isn’t able to get to the heart. And because of that, there is major risk of death. A STEMI calls for quick response.

A STEMI is usually associated with coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by plaque buildup on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and other parts of the body. Plaque is made up of deposits of cholesterol and other substances. Over time, it can build up and narrow the arteries, which blocks blood flow. And it is when major blockage occurs that a massive heart attack can happen.

Is it possible to prevent or reverse heart disease?

There are things you can do to protect against worsening heart disease and to lower your risk of having a heart attack.

  1. Change your lifestyle so that you:
  2. Manage your symptoms with proper medications for:
    • High cholesterol
    • High blood pressure
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Low blood flow

How to survive a heart attack: Know the signs and symptoms

Nearly half of the people who die suddenly from heart problems die outside of a hospital without ever getting the treatment that could have saved their lives. That’s why recognizing early warning signs and getting quick treatment to restore blood flow is key.

Signs and symptoms of a STEMI include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Uncomfortable awareness of your heart beat
  • High anxiety

What to do when you’re having a heart attack (or think you might be having one)

If you think you might be experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Chew an adult-strength (or 2 to 4 low-dose) aspirin to help keep your blood from clotting, and stay on the phone with the emergency operator as you wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital.

About Pawan Hari, MBBS, MPH

Dr. Pawan Hari is a cardiologist who sees patients Park Nicollet Heart and Vascular Center. He specializes in the treatment of coronary artery disease through the use of minimally invasive procedures. Dr. Hari believes getting to know his patients and what is important to them is key to identifying realistic treatment options that will work for each individual. He is an advocate for healthy eating and living. And he enjoys coaching patients to help them live a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.

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