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Skip Navigation LinksPennsylvania Department of Health > My Health > Environmental Health > Health Tracking Program > Heart Attack

heart attack


Myocardial infarction (MI) 

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI) happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart can’t get any oxygen.  If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die.  Heart attacks are a leading killer of both men and women in the United States, and someone suffers a heart attack every 43 seconds.  Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.  Of those 735,000 incidents, 525,000 are first time heart attacks and 210,000 happens to those who have had a prior heart attack.  One of five heart attacks is silent.  Heart disease is the main cause of a heart attack.

Common heart attack signs and symptoms include:
            -  Pressure, tightness, pain or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may
               spread to your neck, jaw or back
            -  Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
            -  Shortness of breath
            -  Cold sweat
            -  Fatigue
            -  Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Not all people who have heart attacks have the same symptoms or have the same severity of symptoms.  Some people have mild pain while others have more severe pain.  Some people have no symptoms at all.  The more signs and symptoms you have, the greater the likelihood you’re having a heart attack and need to get medical attention right away. 

About half of all Americans have at least one of the risk factors below that are associated with heart attacks which includes, but is not limited to the following:
            -  Smoking
            -  High blood pressure
            -  High level of cholesterol
            -  Being overweight
            -  Air pollution (particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide)
            -  Exposure to certain chemicals
            -  Stress
            -  Heart disease

One of the most important things you should do to decrease your heart attack risk is to see your physician and have the appropriate testing done to see if you are in fact at risk.  Do not smoke, do maintain a normal cholesterol level, monitor your blood pressure to ensure it’s within the normal range, limit your exposure as much as possible to air pollution and avoid stress.  Taking the mentioned precautions could you’re your life.
Tracking heart attacks will help with the following in regards to public health:
            -  Examination of time trends  
            -  Identification of any seasonal patterns
            -  Assessment of geographic differences
            -  Evaluation of differences in heart attacks by age, gender and race/ethnicity
            -  Determination of populations in need of targeted interventions.