A heart attack (called myocardial infarction in medical terms) is defined as damage to or death of part of the heart muscle wall because the supply of oxygen-rich blood to that part is severely restricted or totally stopped.

However, before we go into more details, I am tempted to talk a little bit about the heart itself, as an organ.

The Incredible Heart

The heart is a pump, which pumps blood to every part of the body. It does so 24 x 7 for all the years that you live, at a normal rate of about 72 beats per minute.

Just imagine this, and it makes one wonder what a remarkable thing the heart is, that Providence has created. The heart contracts and relaxes without a moment’s rest for all those years of our life by generating its own electricity.

Over an average lifetime, the heart beats about 2.5 billion times, pumping out millions of gallons of blood containing oxygen, fuel, hormones, nutrients, and a host of other essential items to every cell of the body in order that each performs its function.

However, the heart, too, has its limits. We abuse it with our wrong lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, having a sedentary lifestyle, and stressing it out, causing damage to it.

That is when the heart protests and you develop heart conditions. A heart attack is one such condition, which can kill. However, the timely medical intervention has saved many lives.

What is a heart attack?

In absolute nonprofessional language, a heart attack is a “cry of the heart” asking for oxygen.

The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle wall. Sometimes, the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle is interrupted or blocked due to a clot or due to the buildup of fat, and other substances in the lumen of the coronary artery. This is called atherosclerosis.

This results in a heart attack, which the medical fraternity refers to as myocardial infarction. Myo (muscle) Cardium (heart) is the muscle of the heart wall and infarction means the death of the tissue.

There are several causes and risk factors of heart attack, but atherosclerosis is the main reason why most people get it.

Then there are specific causes why women get a heart attack. Similarly, there are risk factors that make children, teenagers, and young adults prone to suffering from a heart attack. 

Most attacks result from years of silent but progressive coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is also known by other names: coronary heart disease, ischemic heart disease, and atherosclerotic heart disease.

A heart attack is classically characterized by pain in the chest. These coronary arteries run on the surface of the heart and are relatively narrow, thus being more prone to being blocked easily and causing an attack.

What is a massive heart attack?

A massive heart attack involves a large portion of the heart muscle. This happens when the main coronary artery supplying blood to a large portion of the heart muscle is blocked and the affected portion of the heart muscle is deprived of blood for a long time.

A massive attack can cause the heart to stop completely and cause sudden death. If the patient survives such an attack, he may develop certain complications such as heart failure, and cardiac arrhythmias, which can predispose to another attack.

It is therefore important that on any suspicion, you should get your heart condition diagnosed early so that prompt treatment measures are taken. However, at times, there may be a failure to diagnose a heart attack and the reasons are explained here 

What is a silent heart attack?

Most of the time, a heart attack presents with signs and symptoms, but sometimes, in spite of having an attack, the person may not experience any chest pain or shortness of breath, or any other symptoms. Such an attack is called a silent heart attack.

According to Wikipedia, at least 25% of all heart attacks are estimated to be silent without the patients showing any symptoms.

Silent attacks are more common in the elderly, in people with diabetes mellitus, and in patients who have undergone a heart transplant. Some studies indicate that women are more likely to suffer from a silent heart attack than men. The reason for this is unknown.

A silent attack puts the person at a greater risk of getting another attack and cardiac complications. The second attack also carries a very high risk of mortality.

What happens to the heart during a heart attack?

In a heart attack, the blood supply to the heart has to be restored within 30 to 40 minutes in order to keep the affected part of the heart muscle alive.

If blood supply is not restored within this time, then the heart muscle begins to die. Within 6 to 8 hours, this process of heart muscle damage is complete and that portion of the affected heart muscle becomes completely dead.

This damage is irreversible and the dead part of the heart muscle ultimately turns into scar tissue. Being a scar tissue, it does not contract like the rest of the heart muscle and, therefore, the functioning of the heart gets affected.

A heart attack may be mild or massive depending on the extent of the heart wall that is affected.

U.S. statistics

The incidence of heart attack is very high and at present, it is rated as the number one killer in the United States.

The present lifestyle of “Hurry, Worry, and Curry” seems to be taking its toll. Forty percent of people who suffer from an attack in the United States succumb to it.

According to the American Heart Association, 63% of women and 48% of men who died suddenly of coronary artery disease had no previous symptoms.

Women are less prone than men to suffer from an attack, but after menopause, their risk increases and equals that of men.

However, according to the stats for the last 32 years, more women die of a heart attack each year than men do.

1.5 million cases of heart attacks are reported every year in the United States of which more than half a million die, according to the American Heart Association.

In the United States, there is someone suffering from an attack every 40 seconds.

Every year, about 805,000 people in the United States suffer from heart attacks.  Of these,

  • 605,000 are a first-timers
  • 200,000 have already suffered from it in the past
  • About 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent, that is 20% of the attacks are silent

Worldwide stats

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. It accounted for one-third of all deaths in 2019.

According to the World Heart Federation,

The total number of deaths in the world due to ischemic heart disease in 2008 was 7,254,000. These are the figures according to regions:

  • Europe: 219,590
  • East Mediterranean: 587,000
  • The American Continent: 881,000
  • Africa: 374,000
  • Southeast Asia: 1,834,000
  • Western Pacific: 1,383,000

Heart attacks are more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries. According to the United Nations report of 2015-2020,  the top 10 Countries with the Highest Death Rates (per 1,000 people)

  1. Bulgaria — 15.4
  2. Ukraine — 15.2
  3. Latvia — 14.6
  4. Lesotho — 14.3
  5. Lithuania — 13.6
  6. Serbia — 13.2
  7. Croatia — 13.1
  8. Romania — 13.0
  9. Georgia — 12.8
  10. Russia — 12.7