In 1500 B.C. an Egyptian physician, wrote the following on papyrus:
“If thou examinest a man for illness in his cardia, and he has pains in his arms, in his breasts, and in one side of his cardia? it is life threatening to him.?
So we have known for a long time that a heart attack is a life-threatening situation…but few understand what is happening to them, on a physical level, during a heart attack. All they know is that they are in serious trouble as real feeling of doom sweeps over them.
The heart is a muscle that contracts 24 hours a day to keep you alive. When your heart stops beating, you are clinically dead.
To understand how the heart works, let me explain, using another muscle, the bicep, to illustrate.
Let’s envision you picking up a ten-pound weight. Curl the weight toward your shoulder and keep going back and forth, working the muscle.
From the moment you start moving that bicep the various arteries that serve that bicep start moving more oxygen and nutrients into the bicep to help it work. The veins in the bicep immediately start carrying away waste products and blood that has been stripped of its oxygen. If you keep working that bicep eventually the waste builds up faster than the oxygen and pain sets in to let you know it’s time to stop…and you drop that weight like a rock.
What do you think would happen to the amount of pain you would have if your bicep was hooked up to a machine that sent an electrical signal to the bicep to force your arm to keep moving, in spite of the way you were hurting? That would be bad, wouldn’t it?
Well, that’s exactly what happens during a heart attack. The blood flow, for whatever reason, is severely reduced or diminished and yet, the sinoartrial node, the electrical pulse that is sent across the heart muscle to make it contract keeps sending that signal even though it shouldn’t at this point. Severe pain is the result and then muscle seizure.
The heart is the most demanding of all organs in the body when it comes to energy demands. And that’s no wonder given that it contracts an average of 72 times a minute throughout your life span and a lot more during physical output or if you are afraid or excited.
To supply its energy needs, the heart is equipped with an extensive circulatory system known as coronary arteries, which carry gallons and gallons of oxygen rich blood to all segments of the heart muscle.
If one of these coronary arteries gets plugged with plaque, or develops a blood clot, or spasm, then the oxygen rich blood and nutrients can’t get to that section of the heart. But the automatic signal (sinoartrial node) continues to stimulate the entire heart including the section that is blocked or narrowed. If the blockage is severe enough, then no oxygen can get to the tissue and it is irreversibly damaged or dies.
I want to give you the definitions of the different descriptions of heart attacks:
- Myocardial Ischemia-The heart muscle is receiving low levels of oxygen but is not yet permanently damaged, or dead.
- Angina Pectoris-the pain that occurs as a result of low oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle as a result of blockage, narrowing or clot formation.
- Myocardial Infarction: Death of a segment of the heart muscle.
Heart transplants are attempted when so many areas of the heart have been permanently damaged that there are insufficient areas left to operate. And pace makers are installed when the electrical signal gets off track and the heart beats irregularly.
If you have any heart attack symptoms, including persistent heartburn, seek medical attention immediately.