You may know someone who has been affected by a heart attack, but how much do you really know about this frightening medical emergency? Do you know how heart attacks work or what they're like for the person having them? When someone experiences a heart attack, there are a number of factors at play and multiple symptoms that can occur that you might not even know about. Boiled down, all a heart attack really does is block your heart from getting the blood it needs. What happens to your body during a heart attack varies from person to person, though, and no two experiences are exactly the same.
Many people believe that heart attacks only happen to people who have an unhealthy lifestyle, but that's not really true. Your likelihood of experiencing a heart attack depends on environmental factors, age, genetics, and many other variables beyond just eating poorly and not exercising enough. Still, many heart attacks share striking similarities in symptoms.
So, what do heart attacks feel like? Whether you're curious for yourself, or just want to better empathize with someone close to you who's had one, this list will shed some light.
It'll Be Different Depending On If You're Male Or Female
While many heart attack symptoms are relatively the same no matter what your biological sex may be, there are also some pretty notable differences. For one thing, heart attacks are more deadly for women, and heart disease that leads to heart attacks is the number one killer of women in the United States.
As far as symptoms go, women are more likely to feel indigestion and have sleep disturbances around the time of the heart attack, whereas men are more likely to sweat and feel physically weak.
Your Arteries Become Filled With Plaque
A heart attack happens when the normal flow of blood is cut off from getting to the heart. Blood carries oxygen to and from the heart, and if the heart doesn't get oxygen, it stops functioning. But why does this happen?
Most commonly, this happens when an artery is blocked from the inside. When fat and cholesterol start circulating through your blood stream, they begin to build up on the inside of the arteries, creating a residue known as "plaque." Plaque build-up narrows arteries to the point where not enough blood (or sometimes any blood at all) can pass through. A blood clot then forms around the plaque, and that's when things really start to go wrong.
Your Blood Cells Make It Worse By Trying To Help
As the plaque in your arteries builds up and narrows the passageways of blood traveling to the heart, sometimes the hard, shell-like coating on the plaque can rupture. When this rupture happens, fat and waste can become exposed and leak into your blood stream. Sensing that something is wrong, your blood cells spring into action to try to save you from the exposed fat in the plaque.
There's only one problem with this - because the artery is already very clogged by plaque, the blood that rushes to the site of the exposure forms a clot too big for oxygen-rich blood to get past. So, even as your body senses something is wrong and tries to save you, it can actually be the main cause of the heart attack itself.
Your Heart Muscle Quickly Starts To Die
So, what happens when your heart doesn't get oxygen? Is it just that the oxygen isn't circulated to the rest of your body? Actually, the major problem with arteries getting blocked is that the heart muscle begins to harden and die within a very short amount of time.
As it becomes oxygen-starved, the heart sends signals to your body and brain that something is severely wrong, but even then, the heart muscle will start to die right away. The longer the clot is there and the oxygen doesn't get through, the more of your heart muscle that may die. The heart will still continue trying to beat, even as it's dying, and may work even harder to try to save your life, but this muscle death can be permanent if not treated or resolved quickly.