Acute Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)

Looking for Advanced Heart Attack Care? Orange County Communities Trust Hoag.

Worried you might have a higher risk of experiencing a heart attack? Residents of Irvine, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana and communities across Orange County trust Hoag.

Orange County deserves world-class cardiac care close to home. Our board-certified, multidisciplinary team of cardiovascular specialists combine in-depth experience with a passionate desire to deliver robust, patient-centered care. From the most advanced diagnostic and cardiac imaging technology to groundbreaking cardiovascular interventions including coronary angioplasty, stenting and coronary artery bypass grafting, you can trust Hoag for advanced cardiac diagnostic and treatment options in Orange County.

Our Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute has been consistently celebrated for excellence in cardiac care by U.S. News & World Report. For 2023-2024, the esteemed publication awarded Hoag their highest distinction in five cardiac specialties, including Heart Attack, Heart Failure and Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (Heart Bypass Surgery).

To understand your risk level for experiencing a heart attack, you can trust the advanced heart attack care team at Hoag. Contact us to learn more.

If you feel you are suffering from symptoms of a heart attack, prompt treatment is needed as this is a medical emergency. Call 911 for emergency medical help right away. Do not wait for a loved one to drive you to the ER.

What is Acute Myocardial Infarction?

Acute myocardial infarction (AMI) — commonly known as a heart attack — is a potentially life-threatening condition in which a portion of the heart muscle (the myocardium) begins to die due to a loss of blood supply to the heart.

The interruption of blood flow to heart tissue (also known as myocardial ischemia) that can cause a heart attack is usually due to a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood, nutrients and oxygen.

If coronary blood flow isn’t quickly restored, an ongoing myocardial infarction can lead to the irreversible death of portions of the heart muscle, a condition known as coronary necrosis or myocardial necrosis. Without immediate treatment, that can cause a wide range of serious medical issues, including cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.

What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack (Acute Myocardial Infarction)?

The symptoms of a heart attack can vary greatly from person to person. Women, for example, may experience different heart attack symptoms than men, including atypical symptoms like a sudden or sharp pain in the neck, jaw or back (see our special section on Heart Attack Symptoms below).

It is also important to note that while chest pain is the most common of all heart attack symptoms, heart attacks can sometimes occur without any chest pain at all.

Common Symptoms of Heart Attack
  • Chest pain (also known as stable angina or angina pectoris) that doesn’t go away, and which can range from mild to severe. Chest pain associated with acute myocardial infarction is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, and is often described as a sensation of pressure, squeezing, crushing or fullness in the chest
  • Pain in other areas of the upper body, including the arms (particularly the left arm), back, neck, jaw or upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe fatigue, which is sometimes due to a potentially life-threatening issue known as cardiogenic shock. Cardiogenic shock is a result of a sudden reduction in the ability of the heart to pump blood.
  • Anxiety, which may feel like a panic attack or a sense of “impending doom.”
  • Perspiration, even if there’s no apparent cause
  • Pulmonary edema, which is a condition involving the buildup of fluid in the lungs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heart palpitations, which are abnormal heart rhythms that may feel like the heart is racing or “skipping beats”
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Heart attacks may be especially dangerous for women, however, because the symptoms of a myocardial infarction in women can be very different than they are for men, including symptoms that aren’t normally associated with heart attack.

While chest pain or discomfort (also known as angina) is the most common symptom of heart attack in women and men alike, pre-heart-attack chest pain in women is often less severe. Some women experience no chest pain at all.

Other heart attack symptoms women may experience more often than men also include:

  • Pain in the lower part of the chest, upper back or arms
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Pain in the shoulder, neck or jaw
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy, or experiencing vomiting or nausea
  • Unexplained sweating
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting
  • Severe, unexplained fatigue

What can Cause a Heart Attack/Acute Myocardial Infarction?

Atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries that usually causes heart attacks (also known as coronary artery disease), is often due to lifestyle-related risk factors like eating a diet that includes too much fat and cholesterol, not getting enough physical activity and other issues.

If the plaques associated with atherosclerosis rupture (break apart), they can cause a blood clot, also known as a coronary thrombosis, that reduces or blocks blood flow to a portion of the heart — a condition called acute myocardial ischemia.

Another life-threatening condition that can cause a heart attack is Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (also known as SCAD or coronary dissection). Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection occurs when a tear develops in the wall of an artery that supplies your heart. This tear can allow blood to collect in the space created between the layers of the artery wall, reducing or blocking blood flow to the heart muscle. That can potentially lead to a heart attack or cardiac arrest.

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) can happen to either men or women, but the vast majority of cases — over 90%, according to some studies — are seen in women for reasons that aren’t well understood.

Other conditions that can cause or contribute to a heart attack include:

  • Coronary artery embolism (a blood clot in the coronary artery)
  • Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, which involves a thickening of the walls of the lower chamber of the heart
  • Heart failure
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Peripheral vascular disease, also known as peripheral arterial disease
  • Aneurysm in the coronary arteries
  • Sepsis
  • Coronary artery spasm (also known as coronary vasospasm, Prinzmetal’s angina, vasospastic angina or variant angina): Coronary artery spasm is a sudden spasm that narrows the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, which can restrict blood flow to the heart muscle.
How Common are Heart Attacks?

Heart attacks are very common in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2023, about 805,000 Americans will experience a heart attack each year.

What is Acute Coronary Syndrome?

Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is a blanket term for certain types of coronary artery disease that can damage or destroy heart muscle tissue due to the blood supply of the heart becoming suddenly blocked.

Which type of acute coronary syndrome a person has depends on the amount of heart damage caused by the condition, how long blood flow to the heart muscle stays blocked, and the extent of the blockage.

Types of acute coronary syndromes include:

  • Unstable angina: Unstable angina is a sudden attack of chest pain or pressure that can happen even when you’re not exerting yourself. It’s a more severe form of stable angina, which is chest pain that happens only when engaging in physical activity or when a person is under emotional or physical stress.
  • Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (NSTEMI): A Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction, or NSTEMI, is a heart attack that doesn’t cause specific changes to the electrical activity of the heart. Because of this, NSTEMI heart attacks can usually be detected through blood tests for cardiac markers but not an electrocardiogram (EKG). NSTEMI heart attacks are usually due to a short-duration blockage or incomplete blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI): An ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction, or STEMI, is a severe heart attack in which blood flow to a large portion of the heart was blocked for a long time. Unlike a Non-ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (NSTEMI), an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction can be detected with both blood testing or an electrocardiogram (EKG).
What’s the Difference Between a Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest?

While a heart attack can sometimes lead to cardiac arrest without prompt medical intervention, the two conditions are usually caused by different issues.

  • A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, usually occurs when something blocks an artery, preventing oxygen-carrying blood from reaching part of the heart tissue. If the blockage isn’t cleared quickly, the portion of the heart served by that artery can suffer what is called coronary necrosis in which the tissue can begin to die. That damage is usually permanent, and without prompt medical treatment, it can spread, potentially causing cardiac arrest.
  • Cardiac arrest occurs through a different mechanism, and often without warning. Usually, cardiac arrest happens due to a malfunction in the electrical system that controls the regular, coordinated pumping action of the heart. That creates what’s called an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which can interfere with the ability of the heart to pump blood to the body. Without a steady supply of oxygenated blood, a person often loses consciousness and collapses, with no pulse. Without emergency intervention, like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or the use of a defibrillator to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm, this can quickly result in death.

What are the Risk Factors for Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)?

There are several factors that can increase a person’s heart attack risk or make them more likely to have recurrent cardiovascular events that may be life threatening. Heart attack risk factors may include:

  • Having high blood pressure, particularly if you aren’t taking medications or making lifestyle changes to help you maintain a lower blood pressure. High Blood pressure can seriously impact the cardiovascular system by putting extra pressure on the inner walls of blood vessels.
  • Having a family history of cardiac issues, including high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart disease, cardiovascular disease and heart attack
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Having previously had a heart attack or a blocked artery
  • Having a history of cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, blocked blood vessels, disorders involving the heart valves, a stroke or other heart-related condition
  • Having diabetes, especially if you aren’t taking steps to lower your blood sugar. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with diabetes and elevated blood sugar are twice as likely to have heart disease than people who don’t have diabetes.
  • Having high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (also known as “bad cholesterol”)
  • Not getting enough physical exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating a diet that’s high in cholesterol and saturated fats, which can contribute to the formation of plaque and coronary artery disease.
  • Experiencing prolonged or extreme stress
  • Having male pattern baldness: While not as well-known as many risk factors for heart attack, male pattern baldness has emerged in recent years as an area of concern. In one study, those with male pattern baldness at the crown and front of their heads were nearly 70% more likely to experience a heart attack than those without hair loss.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)?

While there is no way to definitely prevent yourself from having a heart attack, there are certain steps you can take to reduce, manage or otherwise modify risk factors for heart attack you might already have, including making healthy lifestyle choices.

Ways to reduce your heart attack risk factors may include:

  • Getting plenty of regular exercise
  • Taking any prescribed medications exactly as directed by your healthcare provider for issues like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and other issues 
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens and without too much fat, cholesterol or sugar.
  • Getting regular checkups that include blood tests and other diagnostic tests to evaluate the function and rhythm of your heart
  • Seeking immediate medical treatment for cardiac-related issues like arrhythmia, chest pain, changes in blood pressure (particularly high blood pressure), swelling in the legs and ankles, etc.
  • Managing your salt intake
  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing your stress levels

Searching Online for an “Acute Myocardial Infarction Specialist Near Me”? In Orange County, Your Search Ends At Hoag.

There’s a reason why U.S. News and World Report named Hoag a 2023-2024 high-performing hospital — their highest distinction — in the five heart cardiac specialties, including Heart Attack, Heart Failure and Heart Bypass Surgery.

Our multidisciplinary team of cardiac experts utilize the most advanced methods available, including minimally invasive catheter procedures that result in fewer complications, shorter recoveries and less pain. A system-wide dedication to personalized, compassionate treatment for every patient who seeks our help and guidance.

That’s the standard of heart attack care Orange County deserves. And at Hoag’s Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart Institute, that’s what we provide residents of Newport Beach, Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana and other communities across our region.

Find the answers you need at Hoag. Contact us by calling or filling out our online form to learn more.


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