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Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction) in Seniors FAQ

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Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction) in Seniors FAQWhat is a heart attack?

A heart attack is a serious cardiac event where a portion of the heart muscle dies when its blood supply is interrupted. It is also known as a myocardial infarction (MI) and is one of the leading causes of death especially in the elderly. Most heart attacks are a consequence of coronary artery disease (CAD) but there are several other causes of a heart attack that also need to be considered.

How does the heart attack chest pain feel?

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. It is described as a constricting pain which gradually gets worse. When the pain starts with strenuous physical activity or emotional stress yet eases with rest then it is most likely angina pectoris and not a heart attack. Angina pectoris is a warning sign that a heart attack will occur unless the root cause is treated. Angina pain is quickly received by nitrates also known as TNT or nitroglycerin. Heart attack pain is not.

Although heart attack chest pain is constricting in nature, there are times where it can be quite uncharacteristic. It may be burning pain similar to heartburn. Sometimes the typical pain expected with a heart attack is not even present and this can be misleading. Other symptoms may or may not be present and a person is confused about whether they are having a heart attack or not. Pain on its own is therefore an unreliable indicator of a heart attack.

Am I having a heart attack?

There are instances when a heart attack is not that obvious. Several commonly missed heart attack symptoms exist that may be mistaken for other problems like acid reflux. It is therefore always advisable to go to the emergency room immediately should you suspect that you are having a heart attack. An ECG ans cardiac enzymes blood test will be a more conclusive indication of whether you are having a heart attack or not.

There are some characteristic signs that need to be noted.

  • Central chest pain radiating to the arm, neck, jaw or upper part of the abdomen. Usually on the left side of body.
  • Difficulty breathing – shortness of breath as if not getting enough air.
  • Nausea and sometimes vomiting.
  • Sudden and excessive sweating which is uncharacteristic.
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Anxiety with an impending sense of doom

Other symptoms like paleness of the skin, cold clammy skin and confusion may also be present.

Can a heart attack be treated?

Modern medicine is very effective in limiting and managing a heart attack. However, the heart muscle that is destroyed with a heart attack can never be restored. Damaged areas can heal but not dead muscle tissue. Medicines will be given to help open up the blood flow to the heart muscle and keep it open. Surgery will also help to keep the blood flow going by unblocking the affected artery in the heart wall and establishing an alternate route for the blood.

Many of these measures can be undertaken before a heart attack to minimize the severity of the event or even prevent it altogether. However, a massive heart attack that strikes suddenly without any preventative measures in place or treatment options rapidly available is fatal in most instances. For the elderly there is a much greater risk and sometimes even the best treatment may not be able to prevent death.

Is a heart attack dangerous in seniors?

A heart attack is dangerous for any person of any age. It does hold considerably more risk for the elderly as the body’s ability to survive such events is reduced with age. Even rapid treatment may not be sufficient when a heart attack occurs in an older person. Heart attacks in the elderly is often complicated further by chronic diseases, some of which has existed for years and caused considerable damage to the heart and body.

Most heart attacks happen in people over the age of 60 years of age. The survival rate is lower in this age group than it is in younger people who have a heart attack. The life expectancy is also much lower and people over 75 years who have a heart attack do not have a promising survival rate beyond 90 days after the event. Nevertheless, the risk and survival rate depends on individual cases.


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