A mini heart attack is not the same as a heart attack. It is less severe but if it is not provided medical attention immediately, it could be dangerous! Know everything about it.

When you hear the words “heart attack,” you instantly think of hand-clutching heart images, but not all heart attacks are massive. Some heart attacks are less life-threatening and last only a few minutes – these are called mini-heart attacks. Well, a mini heart attack is quite different from a heart attack! It is less severe and causes less damage to the heart. However, it still needs immediate medical attention because neglecting signs of a mini heart attack can be dangerous. Knowing what a mini heart attack is and its symptoms can help you deal with it properly.

What is a mini heart attack?

A mini heart attack, also called a minor or mild heart attack or a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), refers to a temporary disruption of blood flow to the heart. While it may feel similar to a heart attack, its symptoms do not last as long as a heart attack. “It only lasts for a few minutes and causes symptoms similar to a heart attack, without causing permanent damage to the heart muscles,” explains Dr Bipeenchandra Bhamre, Consultant Cardiac Surgeon. The effect may be less compared to other types of heart attacks, but it is still a serious condition.

What causes a mini heart attack?

A mini heart attack is usually caused by a partial blockage in the coronary arteries, which are responsible for supplying blood to the heart muscle. This blockage is often due to the formation of a blood clot or plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. The National Institutes of Health reports that about 70 percent of fatal heart attacks are caused by atherosclerotic plaque. The reduced blood flow to the heart can also cause chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath. Other causes can include spasms in the coronary arteries or conditions that increase blood clotting.

Signs of minor heart attack

Here are 4 alarming signs of a minor heart attack you should know:

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Mini heart attack: Symptoms, causes and prevention tips

1. Sweating

The primary function of sweat is to cool down the temperature of your body when it starts to get hot. “Sweating excessively without any particular reason can be an early sign of a heart attack or a minor heart attack. Due to a heart attack, the heart experiences trouble functioning properly, encouraging the body to work harder to pump blood through blocked arteries,” says Dr Bhamre. This can cause the body to sweat more than usual to maintain its temperature.

Sweating
Excessive sweating can be a sign of a heart attack. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

2. Shortness of breath

Medically known as dyspnea, this is a serious concern where an individual finds it extremely difficult to breathe, restricting oxygen supply to the heart. Breathing heavily can further lead to sharp pain and tightening in the chest, as well as feelings of suffocation.

3. Chest pain

It is a type of discomfort or extreme pain in the chest, usually in the front. One can experience sharp, dull, heavy, squeezing, or like pressure in the arms (usually in the left arm), jaw, back, or even the neck and shoulders. “Chest pain, which is caused by a heart attack, is persistent and does not go away with rest. This is why it becomes crucial to seek immediate medical attention for prompt diagnosis,” advises Dr Bhamre.

4. Dizziness

If someone is having a heart attack, he/she might feel as if the whole room is spinning, which can make them lose balance. It is a symptom of reduced blood flow to the heart, which can often lead to falling. This is why individuals are always advised to sit down in a stable place to avoid falls or injuries when they are feeling dizzy.

Secondary symptoms

Other symptoms may include nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue, body pain, especially in the upper body, weakness, and episodes of breathing. If anyone is experiencing these symptoms or chest discomfort, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention.

Risk factors of a mini heart attack

Now you know that the most common underlying cause of a mini heart attack is atherosclerosis, a condition that causes blockage in the inner walls of the arteries. Over time, the blood clot or plaque buildup in the arteries can narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart. The condition can be worsened by several things. Dr Bhamre says, “Risk factors for mini heart attacks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.”

Heart attack vs mini heart attack

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the flow of blood that brings oxygen to a part of your heart muscle becomes blocked suddenly, leading to damage in the heart muscle cells. What determines whether a heart attack is considered major or minor depends on the damage done to the heart and for how long the heart is deprived of adequate blood flow it needs to function.

  • A heart attack is caused by prolonged blockage of blood flow and a mini heart attack is caused by partial disruption of blood flow to the heart muscles.
  • A heart attack is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention, as it can cause permanent damage to the heart if blood flow is not restored quickly. While a mini heart attack may feel like a heart attack, but is usually less severe and lasts for a few minutes.
  • Heart attack symptoms include chest pain, radiating to the arms, neck, jaw, and stomach, along with shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness. The symptoms of a mini heart attack are also quite similar to those of a heart attack but with less damage to the heart muscle.
A woman pointing at her heart
Mini heart attack is less severe than a heart attack. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

A mini heart attack does not cause the same damage as a heart attack may. However, even a mini heart attack, which leads to an abnormal heart rhythm, can cause serious health consequences and could be fatal. “You are more likely to have a second heart attack if you did not take proper treatment for the first one,” according to the expert. Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association indicates that there is a higher risk of a second heart attack within the first two weeks after the first one. Therefore, timely and appropriate medical care is essential to prevent cardiac complications.

How to diagnose a mini heart attack?

The diagnosis of a mini heart attack or a heart attack is the same. It involves a combination of assessing symptoms, medical history, and conducting diagnostic tests. Doctors may use electrocardiograms (ECG), blood tests (such as cardiac enzymes, troponin T, cholesterol, ceramides, echocardiograms (Echo), chest X-ray, cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), etc., to evaluate the damage and identify the underlying cause.

Treatment for a mini heart attack

Treatment for a mini heart attack aims to restore blood flow to the heart and prevent further complications. This may include oxygen, medications such as nitroglycerine, pain medications (morphine), anticoagulants, clot-preventing drugs (thrombolysis), medications to help you relax, and statins. If the damage is serious, surgical procedures, which include balloon angioplasty (PCI), stenting, and coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG), can be performed.

hypertension
A heart attack is a serious health condition. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How to prevent mini heart attack

To prevent a heart attack, major or minor, you need to improve your lifestyle. Here’s what can help you reduce the risk of heart disease:

1. Heart healthy diet: Eating foods low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium helps maintain heart health. Moreover, focus on protein-rich and omega-3 fatty acid foods.
2. Regular exercise: Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity to improve cardiovascular fitness and overall heart health.
3. Quit smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and significantly increases the risk of heart attack. Besides smoking, all forms of tobacco are harmful to cardiovascular health.
4. Limit sugar: Excessive sugar intake can contribute to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase heart attack risk. Avoid consuming more than 30 grams of sugar a day.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation: Excessive alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart disease.
6. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight strains the heart and increases the likelihood of heart disease.
7. Keep cholesterol in check: High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) can lead to plaque buildup in arteries, increasing heart attack risk.
8. Manage high blood pressure: Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attacks so keep a check on it.
9. Manage diabetes: Diabetes can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
10. Reduce stress levels: Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease. Practice yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation to manage stress.

Apart from following these tips, going for regular medical check-ups to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar is essential.

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