Heart Attack

Heart Attack Patient Education

Act Fast to Protect Your Heart

Sometimes, people don’t realize they’re having a heart attack. The pain can range from sharp to dull and may even feel like indigestion. Know the early warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack so you can act fast if one happens.


If you or someone you know is having ongoing or severe chest pain, go to the emergency room or call 911.


Seconds count. You can recover from a heart attack faster if you seek treatment as soon as you feel unwell.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when an artery (blood vessel) to the heart becomes blocked. The heart stops getting the blood and oxygen it needs to function, which damages the heart.

Plaque, which is made up of mostly cholesterol, can build up on artery walls and lead to blockage. Plaque prevents blood from flowing properly, which can cause damage to artery walls.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Time is crucial during a heart attack. Rapid treatment prevents further damage to your heart.

Call 911 if you feel or see any of these symptoms:

  • Heaviness, pressure or squeezing in your chest
  • Chest pain that travels up your neck or left arm
  • Jaw pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Change in color; skin appears pale, gray or ashen
  • Indigestion or discomfort, especially after physical activity
  • Extreme fatigue, dizziness or fainting

Don’t ignore these warning signs. If you feel these symptoms for more than 20 minutes, seek immediate medical attention. Time lost is heart muscle lost.

Who’s at risk for a heart attack?

Often people assume heart attacks only happen to older people. Yet heart attacks can affect people of all ages. It’s never too early to think about your heart health. Some risk factors for heart attack include:

  • A family history of heart disease or heart attack
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure

How can you prevent a heart attack?

There are many things you can do to reduce your risk for a heart attack:

  • Control your blood pressure 
  • Partner with your doctor to manage cholesterol through diet and/or medication
  • Be active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid salty foods

Talk to your doctor about your family history and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.

How is a heart attack diagnosed?

Again, if you experience heart attack symptoms, it’s best to call 911 immediately. Then, heart care can begin even before you arrive at our hospital. Virtua emergency medical services staff stay in contact with our heart team and can start care right away. When you come through our doors, our doctors are ready to diagnose and treat you quickly.

ECGs (electrocardiograms) detect a heart attack by measuring the electrical activity of your heart. Abnormal activity can mean your heart is not pumping as it should due to a blocked artery. During this test, a doctor or nurse will place adhesive patches on your chest and connect them to a monitor. The test tracks your heart’s electrical activity for several minutes.

How is a heart attack treated?

To treat a heart attack, a specialist (interventional cardiologist) will open the blocked artery. The most common ways to open arteries are:

  • Coronary angioplasty
  • Stenting 
  • Bypass surgery

Healing after a heart attack

When you return home, our team will continue to support you and help you get back to the activities you enjoy through follow-up visits and our cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program. Your cardiologist and primary care doctor partner with the cardiac rehab team to monitor your progress.

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