The heart pumps blood around the body to supply oxygen and energy to the muscles and other organs. The heart itself is made up of muscle and hence also needs enough blood supply to keep working.
A heart attack occurs when any of the blood vessels that carries blood to the heart gets blocked. As a result, the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen. This often causes severe chest pain and breathlessness. If this goes on for too long, the part of the heart affected may die. If a large amount of heart muscle has been damaged by the heart attack, the heart may not pump well enough to meet up with the body demands. This is called heart failure.
Why does it happen?
Heart attacks are caused by blood clots that form in the arteries that supply the heart. Most times, these arteries are already narrowed by clumps of fat on their walls. This is called atherosclerosis, and it is commoner in older people. This may be in place for many years without being noticed until a heart attack occurs.
The chances of having a heart attack are increased in some identified situations. They are only called risk factors, so having them does not imply one will definitely have a heart attack. In the same vein, their absence does not preclude an attack from happening. They include:
• Male sex. Before menopause, women are less likely to have a heart attack than their male counterparts. But after this, the chances even out.
• High cholesterol in the blood
• Lack of exercise
• Family history of heart attack occurring under the age of about 60 years.
What happens soon after going through a heart attack?
After an attack has been managed successfully and one discharged from the hospital, they may have to take things slowly and gradually get life back to normal. As one adjusts, they become able to go about some of their routines without getting tired and breathless. Return to normal activities is usually possible within two months, but getting back to work might take several months.
It is normal to feel somewhat low at times after a heart attack, but some people can become downrightly depressed and may need treatment.
After a heart attack, there is an increased chance of another one happening. In order to reduce this risk, there are a number of things to do:
- Taking prescribed medications as directed. These drugs may need to be taken for life.
- Stopping smoking.
- Eating a healthy diet. This involves eating more fruit and vegetables; eating less meat; cutting down on high-fat diet, and eating about three portions of oily fish weekly.
- Avoiding vitamin supplements that contain beta-carotene
- Taking regular exercise
What happens in the longer term?
The quality of life after a heart attack is largely determined by the extent of damage on the heart muscles. Some people who have had a heart attack get chest pain (angina) and feel breathless from time to time. This happens when the heart doesn’t get enough blood, as in during exercise, and usually goes away with rest. There are drugs that can help with angina.