Although massive precautions were needed against COVID-19, the virus still wasn’t the leading cause of death among Filipinos in 2021—in fact, it only ranked third. The top two causes were heart disease-related, which are ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.

In terms of a global scale, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. 

Contrary to what’s portrayed in the media, detecting early signs of a heart attack can be hard to miss. As such, it’s important for families and friends of people diagnosed with heart disease, including those at risk for it, to watch for signs of an attack and know what to do next. 

This article will provide you with everything you need to know about what can cause a heart attack, the first signs to look out for, what to do when it happens, and more.

BI Info18 First Signs of a Heart Attack

What is a Heart Attack?1

Heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarction, happen when the heart doesn’t get enough blood and oxygen. This may be because the arteries leading blood to the heart are narrow from plaque build-up. 

While it can be fatal, people can survive a heart attack with a fast enough response.

 

Causes of a Heart Attack1,2 

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease (CHD), which is the interruption of the heart’s blood and oxygen supply. Built-up cholesterol and fat inside the blood vessel limit blood flow and create plaques in a process called atherosclerosis. When the plaques eventually burst, it causes a blood clot to form, which can seal the blood’s passageway to the heart, triggering a heart attack. 

However, not all heart attacks are caused by CHD. Lesser known heart attack causes include:

 

Risk Factors of a Heart Attack3

The likelihood of someone you love experiencing a heart attack depends on many factors—some are in their control while some aren’t. Take note of these to stay vigilant for any underlying possibilities of a heart attack.

A study found that one in five people who suffered a heart attack was 40 years old and below. Another study showed that the average age of those who suffered heart attacks was around 65–66 years old for males and 72 years old for females. 

According to scientific research, several genes are associated with myocardial infarct (MI). For Filipinos, the population tends to have a high ABCG2 gene, which has connections to hypertension, kidney damage, and heart problems.

The interaction between these genes and factors like smoking and a sedentary lifestyle can increase an individual’s chances of MI.

Common choices that increase the likelihood of heart attack are smoking and a poor diet. Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that can inflame and swell blood vessel cells, narrowing the passage and interrupting the blood flow to the heart. Meanwhile, a poor diet of high saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries.  

Certain health and medical conditions may be out of someone’s control but must still be considered to reduce the chances of heart attacks. These conditions include the following:

Psychological stress can trigger the body’s fight-or-flight responses, increasing body fat, insulin resistance, and blood pressure. These effects can inflame your arteries and reduce blood flow to the heart muscles, triggering a heart attack.

 

First Signs of a Heart Attack1,2,4

Symptoms differ among people. However, spotting early signs of a heart attack can be what is needed to save someone from a fatal event. If your loved one begins complaining about one of the symptoms below, keep a close eye on them and prepare to call a doctor. 

The clearest signs and symptoms of a heart attack are chest pains and discomfort, known as angina. Other indicators to watch out for are heartburn or a squeezing or heavy weight suddenly put on the chest.

If someone starts breaking out into a cold sweat, suddenly feeling nauseous and lightheaded, it could be a sign that a heart attack is coming. Some people may also vomit.

The pain from the chest typically radiates outward to different parts of the body. It may come off as a sudden toothache, tightness in the neck area, or pressure in the back area. 

Arm pain, typically on the left side, can occur before chest pains. This is because the nerves from the arm and the heart are connected to the same brain cells. The brain confuses the two, leading to great discomfort.

Sudden exhaustion or fatigue after doing low-effort activities you’re used to doing can typically mean that something’s wrong. If the tiredness doesn’t disappear after a few days, it may indicate heart disease. Contact your doctor as soon as possible.

 

What to Do if Someone is Having a Heart Attack2,5

What happens during a heart attack is that the heart isn’t getting enough blood and oxygen. The body’s other internal organs, especially the brain, will also lack blood and oxygen; thus, speed is crucial to saving the patient. Keep these steps in mind to act quickly if someone is having a heart attack.

Even if you aren’t 100% sure that it’s a heart attack, it’s better to bring the patient to the nearest emergency room and have medical professionals take a look. They can begin treating the patient and revive them if they’re unconscious. 

Take note of the contact numbers of your nearest hospitals and emergency medical services. The Department of Health (DOH) has a resource that includes the hotline numbers of hospitals you can call.

Heart attacks are intense situations, but you need to remain calm. Act fast and avoid excessive panicking since time is crucial in these events. Remember that your first instinct should be to call for help. 

 

How to Aid Someone’s Heart Attack Recovery6

Heart attacks can be a major setback in someone’s life. Help your loved ones get back on their feet with these heart attack recovery tips. 

With the doctor’s clearance and guidance, you can help the patient with certain exercises. Physical activities can be a great way to help them manage diabetes or improve their overall health.

According to the WHO, adults are recommended to have 150 minutes of physical activity every week. You can join them in brisk walking, dancing to their favorite music, or even encouraging them to help with chores around the house.

Heart attacks are traumatic experiences. What happens after a heart attack is some of the most emotional times of a person’s life. So, check up on how they’re feeling and be willing to lend them an ear. Hearing them out can help improve their mood after a stressful event.

Assist them in making a few lifestyle changes to prevent another heart attack. Cook up a few heart-healthy meals to create a balanced diet that improves their condition. Promote more physical activity to help them manage their diabetes and lower their blood pressure. 

Doctors are likely to prescribe them different medications after a heart attack. Take note of the dosages for each prescription and how often they need to take them to avoid harmful mistakes.

Rehabilitation sessions are done to take better care of the heart, but it can still be overwhelming. Join them during these appointments to take notes of the doctor’s points, ask helpful follow-up questions, and show a gesture of moral support during these difficult times. 

Most patients are given the go-ahead to return to work anywhere between two weeks to three months. During this time, help them slowly get back into their daily routines and remind them not to overwork themselves.

 

Know How to Protect the Heart 

Knowing more about and watching out for early warning signs of a heart attack can help protect yourself and your loved ones. While heart attacks may seem sudden, their causes can be traced back weeks or months prior.

A person’s lifestyle, such as smoking and consuming large amounts of saturated fats and sugars, creates a chain of events that can narrow the arteries and trigger a heart attack. This means someone can reduce their risk with the right habits.

Prevention is still better than any cure. This includes regularly talking to medical professionals and taking cardiovascular assessment tests to keep heart attacks—any severe complication, in general—at bay. 

For starters, you can check out our Heart Disease Risk Checklist to get a clearer picture of your risk of heart attacks and whether or not you should consult your doctor immediately.

 


 

References:

1https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16818-heart-attack-myocardial-infarction

1https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106

1https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-heart-attacks

1https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm

1https://www.heart.org/-/media/Files/Health-Topics/Answers-by-Heart/What-is-a-Heart-Attack.pdf

2https://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/heart-attack-and-the-body

2https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/your-heart/post-heart-attack/about-heart-attacks

2https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106

2https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/151444#causes

2https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-attack/causes/

3https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_CVD_508.pdf

3https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm

3https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure/how-high-blood-pressure-can-lead-to-a-heart-attack

3https://news.vcu.edu/article/2022/02/study-of-heart-health-and-genetic-factors-in-filipinos-could-lead-to-targeted-treatments

3https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1605086

4https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/never-ignore-symptoms

4https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317652#heart-attack

5https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack

5https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/aspirin-for-heart-attack-chew-or-swallow

5https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-aeds-public-places-can-restart-hearts

5https://heart.arizona.edu/heart-health/learn-cpr/frequently-asked-questions-about-chest-compression-only-cpr

6https://www.heart.org/-/media/Files/Health-Topics/Answers-by-Heart/What-is-a-Heart-Attack.pdf

6https://health.clevelandclinic.org/a-poor-diet-increases-your-risk-of-dying-from-heart-disease-stroke-diabetes/

 

Disclaimer: The information provided is for information purposes only and is not meant to be substituted for the advice given by a registered medical practitioner. This should not be used for diagnosing health problems or for self-medication. Boehringer Ingelheim shall not be responsible for any damages or losses arising out of access to or use of information provided.

 

Last medically reviewed on August 31, 2022