LET'S TALK! About Your Health

January 2014
Heart Attack Basics
Let's Talk HeartDid You Know? Despite continued advancements in medicine, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States, more than cancer, infections or accidents.

Heart Attack

Special Feature by Robert S. Lee, MD

Despite continued advancements in medicine, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States — more than cancer, infections or accidents. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, or blockages in the blood vessels in the heart. This is also known as atherosclerosis. 1 out of 2 men and 1 out of 3 women will have coronary heart disease after the age of 40. If a blockage becomes severe enough to prevent sufficient blood flow and oxygen delivery to your heart muscle, it can cause a heart attack. Heart attacks are unfortunately very common, with 1 occurring every 34 seconds in the United States.

Warning Signs
Most heart attacks have gradual warning signs that worsen over days. The most common sign is pain or discomfort in the middle of your chest that typically happens with activity and lasts for several minutes. Many patients have described the discomfort as a “pressure-like” or “squeezing” sensation. Other possible signs that can occur with the chest discomfort include trouble breathing, nausea, sweating, or feeling like the discomfort is spreading to your arms, jaws or back. However, it is important to remember that heart attacks can vary in how they make people feel, particularly in women and people with diabetes. If you have any concerns, be sure to discuss them with your physician.

Improve Your Odds for a Better Outcome: Call 911 Immediately
In about a quarter of cases, the signs of a heart attack can occur very suddenly and severely, which is a possible indication that a blood vessel developed a complete blockage abruptly rather than gradually. This type of heart attack is the most immediately dangerous and requires urgent medical attention as these patients do much better the sooner they can get to the hospital. More and more research is being dedicated to finding faster ways to identify and treat these patients. Studies have shown that those that call 911 have better outcomes. Paramedics can then quickly determine whether someone is having this type of severe heart attack. They can start administering life-saving medicines and head to the closest hospital that has the full capabilities to offer the best options for treatment. Paramedics can also call ahead to the receiving hospital to alert emergency doctors and nurses. Some cities even have systems in which cardiologists are also notified prior to the patient’s arrival in case a special procedure to treat the heart attack, called angioplasty, is needed. These systems can save valuable minutes in order to achieve the best possible results for the patient.

Prevention and Controlling Risk
Like any illness, the best way to treat heart disease is to prevent it from happening. This means making sure that your risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol, are under control. A healthy diet, maintaining a good weight, and daily exercise are musts. Quitting smoking at any age can dramatically decrease your risk for heart disease. But if you think you might be having a heart attack, you will want to find out as soon as possible so that you can start receiving treatment earlier. And often, that can begin with calling 911.



This article was written by Robert S. Lee, MD. Dr. Lee joined our practice in July 2013. He earned his medical degree from Drexel University, College of Medicine, then completed his Internal Medicine Internship and Residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Lee continued his specialty training at Harbor-UCLA by pursuing fellowships in General Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology. During his time at Harbor-UCLA, Dr. Lee was appointed Chief Resident, then Chief Fellow, General Cardiology. Learn more about Dr. Lee..

The Healthy Heart in Action

A Heart Attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or stopped. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly become thicker and harder from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances, called plaque. This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. If the plaque breaks open and a blood clot forms that blocks the blood flow, a heart attack occurs.


Progression of Atherosclerosis Culiminating in a Heart Attack

1. Coronary arteries supply book and oxygen to the muscles of the heart.

Heart Attack 1

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2. Fatty deposits called plaque build up in the walls of the coronary arteries.

Heart Attack 2

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3. If the plaque becomes unstable and ruptures, the clotting process called thrombosis starts inside the artery.

Heart Attack 2

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4. If the plaque becomes unstable and ruptures, the clotting process called thrombosis starts inside the artery.

Heart Attack 2

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5. As the thrombosis continues, blood supply to the heart muscle is reduced. And muscle tissue can start to die.

Heart Attack 5

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6. As the thrombosis continues, blood supply to the heart muscle is reduced. And muscle tissue can start to die. This images shows continuing deterioration.

Heart Attack 6

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Graphics and related content in this section are derived and republished from the American Heart Association website

Let's Talk! Library

In addition to frequently participating as guest lecturers throughout the community, our cardiologists write articles for local and regional print and e-publications as well as for this website. We regulary update the list below with new health-related content, so check back often.


What's the Deal with Sugar and My Heart?/ Dr. Bret Witter/ March 2015

arrow FEATURED! Healthy Resolutions: The KIS(S) IT! Approach/ Dr. Stuart Fischer/ August 2014

Heart Attack / Dr. Robert S. Lee / January 2014

arrow FEATURED! Stroke Prevention / Dr. Bret A. Witter / May 2013

Women and Heart Disease / Dr. Steven T. Forman / February 2013

Caring for a Family Member with Heart Failure / Dr. Bret A. Witter / August 2013

Finding the Fountain of Youth / Dr. Steven T. Forman / September 2012

Exercise and Your Health / Dr. Steven T. Forman / December 2012

Making the Most Out of Your Office Visit / Staff / March 2012