Heart Attack: Symptoms, Causes, & Recovery

June 20, 2021

Heart Attack: Symptoms, Causes, & Recovery

Every 40 seconds, one person in the United States has a heart attack. [1

Usually, there are visible symptoms linked to a heart attack, but occasionally, a heart attack gives off no warning signs. In the United States, 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent. These heart attacks happen with no apparent symptoms, and the person's heart takes damage without them realizing it. [1

These are concerning statistics. Because a heart attack can lead to devastating outcomes, it is essential to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack. Having this knowledge will enable you to intervene early on and, hopefully, minimize the damage done. 

What causes a heart attack? 

When the blood supply to the heart gets reduced significantly or entirely cut off, a heart attack can occur. The blood flow to the heart ensures that it gets enough nutrients and oxygen to function optimally. [2

Without this blood supply, the heart is deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Hence, muscles in a particular region of the heart may get damaged or die off, leading to the dwindling function of those heart muscles. These occurrences lead to a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction. [2

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common cause of a heart attack. CHD is a condition where the major blood vessels supplying the heart (coronary arteries) become clogged with plaques. [3

Plaques are cholesterol-containing deposits that can line your arteries. These can rupture and cause the formation of a blood clot. The blood clot formed can then block your artery, hindering blood supply to your heart. This is how a heart attack occurs. [3

Certain risk factors will increase your chances of developing CHD and a heart attack. These risk factors include:- 

  • An unhealthy diet high in fats and sugar
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity or being overweight 
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Advanced age
  • Family history [3,4

Can heart attacks cause death? 

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen after a heart attack or during the recovery phase. Heart attacks increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Both of them are distinct medical conditions but linked in this way. [5

Heart attacks are a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest. [5]

Cardiac arrest is a condition where the heart beats improperly, and hence, cannot pump blood to the brain and other vital organs. The person loses consciousness, and death can happen within minutes if the person does not receive any emergency medical treatment. [5,6

Hence, it is crucial to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack. You will be able to attain timely treatment and professional medical attention. Doing this may prevent severe damage to your heart and a cardiac arrest which can have fatal outcomes. [5

What are the symptoms of a heart attack? 

Recognizing the warning signs of a heart attack is vital to receive proper care and treatment. Some warning signs of a heart attack include:-

  • Chest discomfort or pain - You may experience some squeezing, pressure, or pain. The pain or discomfort is commonly felt at the center of the chest. The discomfort can last a few minutes, or it may subside and then return. 
  • Pain or discomfort in your jaw, back, neck, or in one or both arms. 
  • Lightheadedness, feeling weak or nauseous or breaking out into a cold sweat.
  • Shortness of breath. [7,8

The symptoms may be intense and sudden, but commonly, heart attacks begin with mild discomfort and pain. May sure you give your body the attention it deserves, and do not ignore any of these warning signs, especially if you have one or more risk factors for a heart attack. [7]

The signs and symptoms of a heart attack may look different in men and women. Both men and women will most likely experience the main symptom of a heart attack, which is chest pain or discomfort. However, women have a higher chance than men to experience other symptoms such as nausea, jaw pain, and shortness of breath. [7]

What should I do if I notice those symptoms? 

If you notice these signs, seek medical attention immediately. Even if you are unsure whether it is a heart attack,call your emergency medical service (EMS) provider, 911.Doing this is the fastest and best way to get rapid lifesaving treatment for yourself or someone else. [7]

Every second counts. The EMS team that arrives on the site can administer treatment immediately. In the event that the patient’s heart has stopped beating, they are well-trained on how to perform emergency treatment to revive the heart. 

What does recovery look like after a heart attack? 

A heart attack can leave damage to your heart. Because of this damage, you may be at risk of other medical conditions, including another heart attack, heart disease, or stroke. To take charge of your heart’s health, you can play a proactive role as part of your own healthcare team. 

Your doctor might give you some medications and lifestyle advice to support the health and functioning of your heart. Occasionally, surgery may be required. 

Most heart attack survivors can return to work and their normal daily activities after two weeks to three months. This timeframe will depend on how severe your heart attack was, your body’s response to it, and how physically active or fit you were before your heart attack. [9

Consult your treating healthcare professional to find out how long you need to rest and recover before returning to your job. 

What can I do to protect my heart after a heart attack? 

To support and preserve your heart’s health and function, there are several steps and lifestyle changes that you can carry out. 

Increase your physical activity.

It is essential to ensure you get enough rest during the recovery phase, but exercise is equally important. In general, you can increase your physical activity gradually, but do seek your doctor’s advice on what kind of physical activity is best suited and safe for your condition. Doing this will ensure you do not overexert your body. [9

Get sufficient sleep and rest. 

If you are feeling fatigued during the day, take a short nap or rest. Ensure you get the right amount of sleep each night based on your age group. [10

Eat healthier 

Nutritious and healthy foods will ensure that your body gets the support it needs for recovery. Try to cut down on foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, and increase your intake of fibers and healthy unsaturated fats. Consult your healthcare professional to devise a nutritional meal plan for yourself. 

Manage your medical conditions 

If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other medical conditions, it is essential that you follow the advice of your doctor. Take your medications according to the instructions given by your doctor, even if you feel perfectly well and don’t notice any symptoms. You should only cease those medications if you have discussed the situation with your treating physician. Controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar will help to reduce your risk of heart diseases. 

Avoid tobacco 

Smoking can produce detrimental effects on your heart’s health. It can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, cause your heart’s rhythm to become irregular, and stiffen and tighten your arteries. All this can heighten your risk of heart diseases and stroke. [11

If you wish to quit smoking, let your healthcare provider know. Your doctor or pharmacist can give you professional advice, and they may recommend certain nicotine replacement products to help boost your chances of success.  

Participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program 

A cardiac rehabilitation program is a medically supervised program designed to train and educate patients with various heart diseases, including heart attacks. 

The team involved in this program consists of various healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, dieticians, and mental health specialists. You will learn how to effectively manage your diet, exercise, and stress, all of which can massively improve your quality of life. [12]  


Taking care of your heart is a crucial part of preserving the quality of your life. You can make a full recovery after experiencing a heart attack, but you may not be able to do every single thing you could before. 

If you experienced a heart attack, the lifestyle changes and daily habits you adopt could make all the difference. 

This article is a guide. It should not replace the information and advice from your healthcare professional. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any doubts or queries. 

Leave a comment