What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when a blood vessel in the heart (coronary artery) becomes blocked and cuts off the blood supply to the heart muscle, causing that area of the heart to die. Myocardial infarction is the medical term for a heart attack.

How does a heart attack occur?

In most cases, the coronary arteries have become narrowed by the buildup of cholesterol plaque over many years. As the arteries become narrow, less blood can go through them, so less oxygen gets to the heart muscle. The process of narrowing is called atherosclerosis. The more narrow the artery becomes, the more likely it is that a blood clot may form and block the artery completely, causing a heart attack. Sometimes blockages can occur suddenly even in places where the artery was not narrow before. Heart attacks can also result from blood vessel spasms or hereditary heart problems.

What can be the results of a heart attack?

The lack of blood and oxygen during a heart attack damages the heart muscle. Part of the heart muscle may die. The more heart muscle that dies, the more likely it is that disability or death will result. If only a small amount of heart muscle dies, the odds of surviving and living normally afterward are high. Early treatment of heart attacks is critical to try to unblock the arteries and limit the amount of muscle death.

 What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Symptoms can vary greatly from severe pain to no noticeable problems at all. There may be a feeling of pressure or pain in the middle of the chest. The pain may be present in the shoulder and arm or in the abdomen or jaw. The pain may be severe. Some people may think they only have indigestion. Other symptoms that may occur with a heart attack are: shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing; weakness; palpitations; lightheadedness; nausea; vomiting; and/or sweating.

How can there be medical malpractice related to a heart attack victim?

When medical malpractice relates to a heart attack victim it is usually because of the failure of the healthcare provider to make a timely diagnosis of an ongoing or impending heart attack and/or the failure to timely and properly treat this condition. More specifically, some of the issues to examine are whether there was a:

  • Failure to perform an adequate history and physical examination of the patient.
  • Failure to consider or appreciate the patient’s risk factors for a heart attack.
  • Failure to appreciate and recognize symptoms of an ongoing or impending heart attack.
  • Failure to obtain or properly interpret an electrocardiogram.
  • Failure to obtain or properly interpret heart muscle blood tests.
  • Failure to obtain or properly interpret other diagnostic tests such as, chest x-rays, Doppler ultrasound (echocardiogram), coronary angiogram (cardiac catheterization).
  • Failure to timely prescribe one or several drugs to: help improve blood flow; keep the heartbeat regular; lower the blood pressure; control pain; and improve long-term prognosis. These drugs may include aspirin, heparin, nitroglycerin, tPA, streptokinase, beta blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
  • Failure to perform angioplasty and/or surgery, typically a by-pass type, when indicated.
  • Failing to monitor the patient appropriately during the critical first 48 hours of a heart attack.


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