Myocardial infarction appears “suddenly”, but the main processes can begin months or years ago.
Sometimes it can seem like a heart attack has come out of nowhere if only a few symptoms appear, such as chest pain. But experts have made it clear that there are subtle signs that can be detected months or even more before an accident.
“Most” heart attacks have “pretty typical symptoms,” says Dr. Zi Jian Xu of Sutter Health.
These typical symptoms include angina pectoris (chest pain), heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and cold sweats.
But he added that there could be six other “atypical symptoms” of the fatal event, and they include fatigue, a vague sense of unease, vague discomfort, abdominal pain, back pain, and a general decrease in stamina.
He explains that some people have a range of these symptoms for “months” or “even longer before a heart attack.”
According to the NHS, heart attacks occur when the heart’s blood supply “suddenly” stops.
But symptoms can appear long before a sudden blockage, because heart attacks are often — but not always — preceded by coronary artery disease.
“In this case, the artery narrows over time. When an artery narrows by more than 70%, warning symptoms begin early, especially during exercise,” explains Dr. Xu.
Coronary heart disease is usually caused by high levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to deposits on the walls of arteries called plaque.
If one of these plaques breaks off, disaster can ensue and the blood vessels can quickly become clogged.
And the American Health Administration, Mountain Sinai, explains: “Pieces of the plate can also separate and move into smaller blood vessels, resulting in blockages. These obstructions deprive the tissues of blood and oxygen. This can lead to tissue damage or death.”
This can cause a heart attack months or even years after coronary heart disease.
However, it is important to remember that people get it suddenly. “A person may or may not have any symptoms earlier, but at the same time, plaque deposits rupture, causing a chain of events and a sudden heart attack,” warns Dr. Xu.
Can heart attacks be caused by anything other than high cholesterol?
If you think you may have high cholesterol, it’s important to make lifestyle changes. This could mean taking statins and eating less fatty foods, or eating a healthy, balanced diet.
But in some cases, heart attacks can occur because the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen, even if the blood vessels aren’t completely blocked.
Iron deficiency is known to increase the risk of heart attack. Iron is used to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all cells in the body. And when the levels are low, the same thing happens with red blood cells.
Hypoxia is another cause of a heart attack. This happens when the level of oxygen from the outside is low.
Lung diseases such as those caused by Covid-19, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can increase the risk of developing hypoxia.