Myocardial infarction
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What in the world is myocardial infarction? It is a disease that affects almost one million Americans each year. And of those people, four hundred thousand die as a result of the disease. The term may sound foreign but it is more familiar than you think. Actually, myocardial infarction is the medical term for what many of us call ‘heart attack’.

The term ‘Myocardial Infarction’ already says much about what the disease is. Myocardial is derived from the word, myocardium which refers to the heart muscle. The term infarction refers to the condition where tissue dies from oxygen starvation. Taken together, the term myocardial infarction literally means the death of the tissues of the heart muscle as a result of oxygen deficiency.


Myocardial Infarction usually occurs when there is an obstruction in the artery, thereby impeding the proper flow of blood. The blood shortage causes injury to the heart muscles, which can lead to death of the muscles. Once a part of the heart muscle is damaged, scar tissue will form. This will greatl affect the heart’s ability to sustain normal function. However, if blood flow does not come back within 20 – 40 minutes, the death of the heart muscle will be irreversible.

If the heart muscles are injured or are dying, there will be no blood supply to the brain. So then, a heart attack can also cause brain damage. And with the lack of blood flow throughout the body, death is not always far from the horizon.

Now, the term ‘heart attack’ suggests something sudden. And while it is true that heart attacks happen suddenly, the root of the condition develops through time.

Heart attack usually stems from a condition called atherosclerosis.


Due to an unhealthy lifestyle ( lack of exercise, poor diet ) as well as a host of various factors allow for plaque to build up on our arteries. This building up of plaque is called atherosclerosis. Eventually, the plaque buildup may grow unstable and it may rupture. This rupture may induce a blood clot and this blood clot will effectively block the coronary artery, disrupting the blood flow.

Family history of heart disease as well as other heart ailments may also contribute to plaque buildup.

In many of the movies, heart attacks are illustrated by a character showing extreme strain on his face while clutching heavily at his chest area. This exhibits one of the most important symptoms of a heart attack – chest pain. In the medical world, this chest pain is referred as angina pectoris. Due to lack of blood supply to the heart and the brain, the patient may also suffer from syncope, more commonly known as a fainting spell. However, depending on the intensity of the attack, a person may also experience nausea, vomiting, sweating, arm pain (especially in the left arm), and back pain
myocardial infarction
Image: Myocardial Infarction

But as dramatic as heart attacks may seem, there are instances in which heart attacks exhibit absolutely no symptoms. This silent heart attack occurs in approximately a quarter of all heart attack cases. But even without symptoms, this form of heart attack is just as serious as any other manifestation of myocardial infarction.

The heart attack in itself may happen over the course of just a few short minutes. However, the intensity of its damage often results to long periods of treatment and recovery for patients.


There are complications, too. Ventricular fibrillation may occur. In this condition, the regular electrical activity of the heart is affected, altering the contraction of the heart muscles. The electrical activity goes crazy causing the heart to stop beating. This condition results to many of deaths in people who suffer from heart attacks.

Because a heart attack can cause so much damage within minutes, an early diagnosis is crucial. According to the world health organization, there are three criteria for diagnosing heart attack or myocardial infarction.


For a diagnosis of myocardial infarction to be made, the patient must have a history of chest pain (resulting from ischemia or blood shortage) which is experienced for more than twenty minutes at a time. Also, there must be marked changes the tracings from the electrocardiogram (ECG), a device that measures electrical activity of the heart. Lastly, he must have a rise and fall in biomarkers, substances released by the body as a response to heart damage.

Aside from the ECG, a chest X ray as well as a blood test will be helpful in correctly diagnosing Myocardial Infarction.


Once the patient is suspected and diagnosed of myocardial infarction, they must call emergency services. Having the person be in half-sitting position, with his knees bent may also help. If possible, first aid must be administered. This consists of the MONA – morphine, oxygen, nitroglycerin, aspirin. The primary purpose is to salvage as much of the heart muscle as possible. So, the MONA will help dilate the blood vessels and decrease pain.

Once the patient reaches a proper medical facility, the doctors will immediately try to restore blood flow in a process called reperfusion. By using reperfusion, further heart damage is halted and the heart continues to pump blood. This procedure will work best if done within four to six hours of the attack.

Reperfusion can be done through thrombolytic therapy, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and coronary artery bypass surgery. In thrombolytic therapy, patients are administered agents that will bust the clot and restore blood flow. In PCI, doctors usually insert a balloon in the artery causing to expand allow blood to move through. Aside from balloons, mesh tubes can also be inserted. As a last resort, patients can opt for a bypass surgery. In this surgery, blood vessels are implanted and grafted to arteries to create new routes for the blood and divert the flow away from blocked arteries.

Cardiac rehabilitation may be a long and difficult process. The patient will have to follow a strict diet, increase physical activity and drop vices like smoking and drinking.

Also, medications to address the blood clot, the heart rhythm and oxygen supply may also given to prevent future heart attacks.

Keep in mind that heart attacks are very, very serious. Once you feel symptoms coming or once you know you have atherosclerosis or other heart diseases you must seek treatment immediately.

Dial 911 and call for help immediately so you can lessen the potential damage to your heart and most of all, prevent a premature death.
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