Heart Attack: Summary

Incidence and Prevalence
According to the American Heart Association, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the United States; and, in adults, heart attacks cause 1 out of every 5 deaths. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) more than 1.2 million heart attacks occur each year in the United States and about 460,000 of these are fatal. Approximately 300,000 people die annually from heart attacks before they can receive medical treatment.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronary heart disease accounts for about 17 million (approximately 30%) deaths annually throughout the world. It is estimated that by the year 2010, heart disease will be the leading cause of death in the world.

  • A Heart Attack occurs when the supply of blood and oxygen to an area of heart muscle is blocked, usually by a blood clot. This may cause the heart to stop beating and pumping blood effectively (arrhythmia) and lead to death or permanent damage to the heart.  
  • Each year, over a million people in the U.S. have a Heart Attack and about half of them die. About one-half of those who die do so within 1 hour of the start of symptoms and before reaching the hospital. Most of these sudden deaths (within 1 hour) are due to arrhythmias that cause a severe decrease in the pumping function of the heart.  
  • Signs of a heart attack include Chest pain that may also spread to the back, shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw. You may have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, or dizziness. Symptoms vary, and some people have no symptoms. Know the signs of a heart attack so you can act fast to get treatment.  
  • Unfortunately, many heart attack victims wait 2 hours or more after their symptoms begin before they seek medical help. This delay can result in death or lasting heart damage.  
  • The amount of damage from a heart attack depends on how much of the heart is affected, how soon treatment begins, and other factors.  
  • Both men and women have heart attacks.  
  • Risk factors for heart disease and heart attack include those that you cannot change, such as your age and a family history of early Heart disease. But there are also many things you can do to lower your risk, such as not smoking, eating a diet low in fat and cholesterol, and exercising regularly. It is also important to keep your weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure under control.  
  • Diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack can begin when emergency medical personnel arrive after you call 9-1-1. At the hospital emergency room, doctors will work fast to find out if you are having or have had a heart attack and give you treatment.  
  • If you are having a heart attack, doctors will work quickly to restore blood flow to the heart and continuously monitor vital signs to detect and treat complications.  
  • Long-term treatment after a heart attack may include cardiac rehabilitation, checkups and tests, lifestyle changes, and medications.  
  • After a heart attack, most people are able to return to their normal activities. Ask your doctor when you should go back to driving, physical activity, work, sexual activity, strenuous activities, and air travel.  
  • If you have had a heart attack, it is very important to have an emergency action plan in case of another heart attack. Talk to your doctor about your plan and make sure that your family members understand it.  
  • Remember, a heart attack is an emergency. Call 9-1-1 if you think you (or someone else) may be having a heart attack. Don’t delay!


Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.