By: on In Living Healthy

What is a heart attack?

Your heart is a fist-size muscle that performs two vital functions within the body. The first of these functions is to supply oxygenated blood to the body. The second function of the heart is to remove waste products, such as carbon dioxide, from the blood. The average human heart beats anywhere between 50 and 100 times per minute.

With each beat, the heart pumps oxygen-depleted blood through the circulatory system to the lungs, where carbon dioxide is then exhaled. The blood’s oxygen level is then restored through inhalation, and the oxygen and nutrient-rich blood is pumped throughout the body.

This continual process of waste elimination and oxygenation of the blood is vital to sustain life. The arteries responsible for providing the heart with a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood are called the coronary arteries. When these arteries become blocked, or inflamed, the blood supply to your heart is reduced. This decreased blood flow often results in a heart attack. When the coronary arteries become blocked, the amount of blood being supplied to the heart is reduced. Because this build up is a general accumulation as opposed to an immediate obstruction, most people are completely unaware that their body is not performing as it should and are, as such, oblivious to the danger.

Blockage or hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque is a condition known as Atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a type of Arteriosclerosis. Plaque is comprised mainly of cholesterol, fat, and waste product. The presence of plaque in the arteries is dangerous for many reasons. Given enough time, plaque alone can build up sufficiently to block the flow of blood to the heart, either partially or completely. More often, however, the plaque lining the artery is disturbed. When this happens, the body responds as it would to a threat. This tear in the plaque, and the resulting fragments, prompts the body to send in platelets to form a clot. Unfortunately, this clot serves to further block the artery, which then prevents blood from reaching the heart. This is known as a heart attack.

As soon as the heart is deprived of oxygen-rich blood, the muscle begins to die. Tissue death caused by lack of blood to the heart is known as ischemia. The response from your nervous system is nearly instantaneous. As soon as your nervous system realizes the heart is not receiving oxygen as it should, it begins to panic. This panic response, known as fight or flight, causes the body to sweat profusely, and causes your heart rate to increase as it attempts to continue pumping blood. As the heart is no longer receiving blood, it can no longer supply the lungs with blood. Shortness of breath is a common symptom associated with heart attacks. The lack of oxygen to the brain often causes people to feel dizzy or nauseated.

If you are able to get treatment fast enough, it is possible to recover from a heart attack. The damage, however, is not so readily remedied. Tissue death is irreversible. Portions of the heart muscle that died from lack of oxygen cannot be regenerated. These sections instead turn to scar tissue and will never function as well as before.

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