(In the memory of my father, a common man, but a poet)
Heart attack that medically known as Myocardial Infarction (MI) is the leading cause of death in the developed countries and the second in the developing world with over 12% of the cause of the death worldwide. The prevalence of such deaths due to heart failure after acute myocardial infarction from the 10% within 30 days and 20% in 5 years in the 70’s, have skyrocketed to 23% and 34%, respectively, in the 90’s. MI usually is a result of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) of the blood supplies to the heart muscles, that is caused by the occlusion of these arteries by atherosclerotic or lipid plaques that finally rupture and leading to the necrosis or infarction of the cardiac muscles, impeding its pumping function, finally failure and death.
The accumulation of the atherosclerotic plaques which is a long or chronic process, after years warns the individual with symptoms of Angina, e.g. chest pain that my feel like heartburn, radiating to left arm, shoulder and other associated symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, numbness on the left side, faint feeling and cold sweat, etc. While the precipitating process is long, the end result could be sudden and acute, causing sudden death in minutes even at times without warning or chest pain, so called silent MI or heart attack. In certain situations, MI could happen without a precipitating long process, by coronary arteries spasm due to the use of some illicit drugs such as cocaine and extreme cold among others. (1-2)
Why a beating heart stops?
A beating heart does not stop incessantly, as it looks in the heart attack or myocardial infarction to be sudden and acute. Underlying a stopping heart or attack that is seemingly acute and sudden, there are chronic or long-standing processes that lead to its standstill. There are more than one factor in the process that ends in the heart attack and understanding of these factors could help to prevent sudden death from heart attacks. Although there are many modern treatment modalities from angioplasty to coronary bypass, saving an infarcted or a partially or more complicated dead heart muscle, hence saving lives, the ultimate goal in this arena needs to be prevention of such fatal accidents, as there are many unfortunate instances such as my father’s that any treatment even advanced ones could be already too late!
While to many people, including the patients themselves and their clinicians, heart attack or myocardial infarction is interpreted as coronary arteries (blood supplies to heart itself) occlusion, there is a big and long-standing secret behind it. Moreover the great majority of myocardial infarctions are not fatal, whether treated or untreated, and understanding, prevention and treatment of the precipitating factors are crucial as subsequent attacks may kill the person if not the first one, like in the case of my father. Among many of these factors, there are comorbidities or other illnesses such as diabetes mellitus or hypertension, plus the size and location of the infarct that influence the clinical course, treatment and prevention. The exact anatomic territory infarcted and whether it includes the sinus node or AV node or important neuro-receptors; whether many small arteries are occluded (especially downstream of narrowed main coronary branches) are all important. Also whether the heart is hypertrophied, dilated, infected, or infiltrated; and whether there may be intra-cardiac, extra-cardiac, or intracranial neuro-pathological conditions that could destabilize cardiac electrical activity are needed to be identified. (3)
Moreover it is known that apoptosis plays a major role in myocardial infarction or ischemia, but it also occurs within the heart completely and independently of infarction. There is also the vexing dilemma that an effective coronary collateral circulation, which is determined primarily by trans-anastomotic pressure gradient, is made less effective by exactly those treatments that reestablish flow in an occluded coronary artery. Since thrombolysis and angioplasty are automatically considered urgent treatment for an occluded coronary artery, it is prudent to remember the complex causes that determine whether the patient lives or dies. (3)
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