Chest Tightness, Why We Should Not Ignore This Symptom:
September 29, World Heart Day is celebrated, a small muscle but the strongest in the body, whose function is to pump blood rich in oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body’s organs and tissues. The heart muscle (myocardium), to contract and function well, needs to receive oxygen and nutrients continuously, which are supplied by the coronary arteries, a kind of pipes that transport blood to the myocardium.
It is estimated that 85% of deaths from cardiovascular disease are due to heart attacks and strokes, according to data from the World Heart Federation ( WHF ).
The problem is when these coronary arteries do not deliver enough oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to a part of the heart muscle because the heart muscle needs this continuous supply to function. Over time, one or more arteries can become narrow due to the buildup of cholesterol and fatty deposits on the inner walls.
Other times, the fatty deposits rupture and form a clot inside the artery, abruptly restricting blood flow to the heart. This blockage caused by the accumulation of fat cuts off the necessary supply of oxygen and nutrients, damaging that area of the heart muscle.
Warning signs of an acute myocardial infarction
At the moment in which the coronary artery is obstructed due to the thrombus, “the heart begins to suffer ischemia,” warns Dr. Borja Ibáñez, an interventional cardiologist at Fundación Jiménez Díaz University Hospital , who explains that “this manifests itself in the form of oppression in the chest”, as if we had a weight on us.
Sometimes this feeling of oppression, which is usually maintained over time, can spread to other areas such as the arms, neck and jaw. Although this pain is usually the most common, it is not the only one. Other symptoms such as shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort), nausea, vomiting, pain in the pit of the stomach, anxiety, dizziness, sweating , etc. should not be underestimated.
It is also important to note that not all people experience the same symptoms or the same severity. There may be only one symptom, or a combination of symptoms, and signs that may not seem as obvious as chest pain. The only way to know what is happening is to act immediately and not ignore the warning signs. Requesting emergency medical help is the first thing ( call 911 or similar), better than trying to avoid arriving by our own means.
The speed with which action is taken has a decisive influence on recovery because “the part of the heart that does not receive blood can hold out for a while, but after a few minutes it begins to become necrotic,” warns Ibáñez, who also warns that irreversible damage increases exponentially with time . “The sooner the flow through the coronary artery is restored, the more heart will be rescued from becoming necrotic”; admits the specialist.
According to research , for every hour of delay between the onset of symptoms and going to the emergency room, two lives are lost for every 1,000 patients. It also indicates that mortality is twice as high if the opening of the obstructed coronary artery occurs four to six hours after onset than if it occurs after one or two hours.
In addition to an urgent catheterization in the most serious cases, diagnosing an acute myocardial infarction requires the use of very sensitive blood biomarkers capable of “detecting small damage to the heart secondary to partial occlusions” that would be missed with other methods.
Life after an acute myocardial infarction
Recovery after a heart attack depends, as we have seen, on the speed with which we receive medical care. Because when a part of the heart is damaged, pumping power is lost in the heart and what is known as chronic heart failure appears, that is, for life. In these cases, it is essential to continue with medication prescribed by doctors and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The implantation of stents through a catheter is, “the best technique to treat heart attacks”, although it is not the only one. Both the CNIC and the Fundacion Jimenez Diaz work precisely to improve this type of treatment. The goal is to reduce the amount of heart damage that remains and, therefore, allow the person to lead as normal a life as possible.
A problem that can be prevented
Taking into account that the risk factors that can cause the obstruction of the coronary arteries are hypertension, high cholesterol, tobacco, obesity or a sedentary lifestyle (in addition to advanced age), it is essential to begin to be aware of the problem from old age. These risk factors represent, according to the study , more than 90% of the population with attributable risk of acute myocardial infarction.
A heart-healthy lifestyle includes managing your heart: stop smoking, control your blood pressure, eat a balanced diet, monitor your cholesterol, and exercise regularly. And this part of prevention is one of the pillars that World Heart Day wants to highlight this year and that emphasizes that we take care of our heart with a healthy diet, saying no to tobacco and exercising.