A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when the blood flow to the heart becomes blocked. Most often the blockage is caused by fat, cholesterol, or other substances having built up over time. They combine and harden over time to form a plaque along the walls of your blood vessels. As the buildup of plaques in your coronary arteries increases and limits the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, the heart becomes ischemic (starved of oxygen and nutrients).
If blocked for too long, the heart can suffer damage from the lack of oxygen and even begin to die. The damage to the heart resulting from ischemia results in a heart attack.
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a severe squeezing sensation in your chest, arms, possibly radiating to your neck, jaw, or back.
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden onset of dizziness
Evaluation will differ depending on your type of heart attack. However, some tests are likely in either case:
- Chest x-ray
- Coronary catheterization
- Stress test
- Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging
Immediate treatment following your heart attack will depend on the severity and type of your heart attack. Once your condition is stabilized, you’ll be treated with medication or possibly surgery. The medications will be used to achieve a variety of goals:
- Dissolve blood clots
- Blood pressure reduction
- Blood thinning
- Lower LDL cholesterol
It’s important to adhere to the regimen of medication your doctor has prescribed. You will participate in cardiac rehab, either at a hospital or separate heart center. Your cardiac rehab will involve exercise, classes instructing you to handle challenges related to your condition, and emotional support.
Another important aspect of recovery is improving your habits so that you’ll have the best chance of recovery. Some examples of healthy habits that will help you recover are:
- Healthy diet
- Avoiding smoking and drugs
- Lowering obesity
- Managing diabetes
- Managing stress
What Cholesterol Level Is Good for Me If I’ve Had a Heart Attack?
Your focus should be on your LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Ideally, your LDL levels should be reduced to below 100. Most likely, you’ll need to practice healthy behaviors in combination with taking prescribed statin (cholesterol-lowering) drugs.