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Myocardial infarction (MI or AMI for acute myocardial infarction), commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart is interrupted. This is most commonly due to occlusion (blockage) of a coronary artery following the rupture of a vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque, which is an unstable collection of lipids (like cholesterol) and white blood cells (especially macrophages) in the wall of an artery. The resulting ischemia (restriction in blood supply) and oxygen shortage, if left untreated for a sufficient period, can cause damage and/or death (infarction) of heart muscle tissue (myocardium).
Classical symptoms of acute myocardial infarction include sudden chest pain (typically radiating to the left arm or left side of the neck), shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, sweating, and anxiety (often described as a sense of impending doom). Women may experience fewer typical symptoms than men, most commonly shortness of breath, weakness, a feeling of indigestion, and fatigue. Approximately one quarter of all myocardial infarctions are silent, without chest pain or other symptoms. A heart attack is a medical emergency, and people experiencing chest pain are advised to alert their emergency medical services, because prompt treatment is beneficial.
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for both men and women all over the world. Important risk factors are previous cardiovascular disease (such as angina, a previous heart attack or stroke), older age (especially men over 40 and women over 50), tobacco smoking, high blood levels of certain lipids (triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein or "bad cholesterol") and low high density lipoprotein (HDL, "good cholesterol"), diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, chronic kidney disease, heart failure, excessive alcohol consumption, the abuse of certain drugs (such as cocaine), and chronic high stress levels.
Immediate treatment for suspected acute myocardial infarction includes oxygen, aspirin, and sublingual glyceryl trinitrate (colloquially referred to as nitroglycerin and abbreviated as NTG or GTN). Pain relief is also often given, classically morphine sulfate.
The patient will receive a number of diagnostic tests, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG), a chest X-ray and blood tests to detect elevations in cardiac markers (blood tests to detect heart muscle damage). The most often used markers are the creatine kinase-MB (CK-MB) fraction and the troponin I (TnI) or troponin T (TnT) levels. On the basis of the ECG, a distinction is made between ST elevation MI (STEMI) or non-ST elevation MI (NSTEMI). Most cases of STEMI are treated with thrombolysis or if possible with percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI, angioplasty and stent insertion), provided the hospital has facilities for coronary angiography. NSTEMI is managed with medication, although PCI is often performed during hospital admission. In patients who have multiple blockages and who are relatively stable, or in a few extraordinary emergency cases, bypass surgery of the blocked coronary artery is an option.
The phrase "heart attack" is sometimes used incorrectly to describe sudden cardiac death, which may or may not be the result of acute myocardial infarction. A heart attack is different from, but can be the cause of cardiac arrest, which is the stopping of the heartbeat, and cardiac arrhythmia, an abnormal heartbeat. It is also distinct from heart failure, in which the pumping action of the heart is impaired; severe myocardial infarction may lead to heart failure, but not necessarily.