Most MIs occur due to coronary artery disease. Risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, high blood cholesterol, poor diet, and excessive alcohol intake, among others. The complete blockage of a coronary artery caused by a rupture of an atherosclerotic plaque is usually the underlying mechanism of an MI. MIs are less commonly caused by coronary artery spasms, which may be due to cocaine, significant emotional stress, and extreme cold, among others. A number of tests are useful to help with diagnosis, including electrocardiograms (ECGs), blood tests, and coronary angiography. An ECG, which is a recording of the heart's electrical activity, may confirm an ST elevation MI (STEMI) if ST elevation is present. Commonly used blood tests include troponin and less often creatine kinase MB.
Treatment of an MI is time-critical. Aspirin is an appropriate immediate treatment for a suspected MI. Nitroglycerin or opioids may be used to help with chest pain; however, they do not improve overall outcomes. Supplemental oxygen is recommended in those with low oxygen levels or shortness of breath. In a STEMI, treatments attempt to restore blood flow to the heart, and include percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), where the arteries are pushed open and may be stented, or thrombolysis, where the blockage is removed using medications. People who have a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) are often managed with the blood thinner heparin, with the additional use of PCI in those at high risk. In people with blockages of multiple coronary arteries and diabetes, coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) may be recommended rather than angioplasty. After an MI, lifestyle modifications, along with long term treatment with aspirin, beta blockers, and statins, are typically recommended.
Worldwide, about 15.9 million myocardial infarctions occurred in 2015. More than 3 million people had an ST elevation MI and more than 4 million had an NSTEMI. STEMIs occur about twice as often in men as women. About one million people have an MI each year in the United States. In the developed world the risk of death in those who have had an STEMI is about 10%. Rates of MI for a given age have decreased globally between 1990 and 2010. In 2011, AMI was one of the top five most expensive conditions during inpatient hospitalizations in the US, with a cost of about $11.5 billion for 612,000 hospital stays.
Myocardial infarction (MI) refers to tissue death (infarction) of the heart muscle (myocardium). It is a type of acute coronary syndrome, which describes a sudden or short-term change in symptoms related to blood flow to the heart. Unlike other causes of acute coronary syndromes, such as unstable angina, a myocardial infarction occurs when there is cell death, as measured by a blood test for biomarkers (the cardiac protein troponin or the cardiac enzyme CK-MB). When there is evidence of an MI, it may be classified as an ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) or Non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) based on the results of an ECG.
The phrase "heart attack" is often used non-specifically to refer to a myocardial infarction and to sudden cardiac death. An MI is different from—but can cause—cardiac arrest, where the heart is not contracting at all or so poorly that all vital organs cease to function, thus causing death. It is also distinct from heart failure, in which the pumping action of the heart is impaired. However, an MI may lead to heart failure.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of acute myocardial infarction and is often described as a sensation of tightness, pressure, or squeezing. Pain radiates most often to the left arm, but may also radiate to the lower jaw, neck, right arm, back, and upper abdomen. The pain most suggestive of an acute MI, with the highest likelihood ratio, is pain radiating to the right arm and shoulder. Similarly, chest pain similar to a previous heart attack is also suggestive. The pain associated with MI is usually diffuse, does not change with position, and lasts for more than 20 minutes. Levine's sign, in which a person localizes the chest pain by clenching one or both fists over their sternum, has classically been thought to be predictive of cardiac chest pain, although a prospective observational study showed it had a poor positive predictive value. Pain that responds to nitroglycerin does not indicate the presence or absence of a myocardial infarction.
Chest pain may be accompanied by sweating, nausea or vomiting, and fainting, and these symptoms may also occur without any pain at all. In women, the most common symptoms of myocardial infarction include shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue. Shortness of breath is a common, and sometimes the only symptom, occurring when damage to the heart limits the output of the left ventricle, with breathlessness arising either from low oxygen in the blood, or pulmonary edema. Other less common symptoms include weakness, light-headedness, palpitations, and abnormalities in heart rate or blood pressure. These symptoms are likely induced by a massive surge of catecholamines from the sympathetic nervous system, which occurs in response to pain and, where present, low blood pressure. Loss of consciousness due to inadequate blood flow to the brain and cardiogenic shock, and sudden death, frequently due to the development of ventricular fibrillation, can occur in myocardial infarctions. Cardiac arrest, and atypical symptoms such as palpitations, occur more frequently in women, the elderly, those with diabetes, in people who have just had surgery, and in critically ill patients.