Written on February 27, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI), occurs when your heart doesn't get enough oxygen . A heart attack is a unique experience for each victim . So, how long do heart attacks last? Because of various factors, heart attacks vary in duration. In this article, learn why heart attacks occur, how long they last, and what you can do to prevent one.
Every year, about 1.0 million people in the United States suffer an MI . In the United States, a heart attack occurs every 40 seconds . The most common cause of death in the United States is heart disease .
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is an umbrella term for various heart conditions and a common cause of heart attacks . When you have CAD, your heart's arteries become blocked by plaque, a waxy substance that accumulates on the inner artery walls due to high levels of cholesterol in the blood [4,5]. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of plaque in the arteries over time [4,5].
Heart attacks irreversibly damage the heart muscle. During a heart attack, blood carrying oxygen cannot reach the heart due to a blocked artery [6,7]. As a result, heart cells (cardiomyocytes) begin to die, causing the heart to stop working correctly .
There are two types of heart attacks [6,7,9]:
A person's heart attack type is determined by a physical exam and diagnostic tests, including an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and a troponin blood test . The EKG measures your heart's electrical activity and generates a wave to indicate the health of your heart . When a part of this wave is elevated, called the S-T segment, a heart artery is completely blocked, and a heart attack is occurring .
Troponin is a protein present in your heart cells . As heart cells die from a lack of oxygen during a heart attack, they leak troponin into the blood . Elevated troponin levels indicate a heart attack is occurring [7-9].
How long a heart attack lasts depends on the heart attack type, prior heart health, and awareness. Consequently, heart attacks can last for various durations, depending on the individual. Your body may warn you days before a heart attack occurs.
Heart attack warning signs can start weeks to days before the attack, with approximately two-thirds of victims experiencing them . The most common symptoms of a heart attack are :
While most heart attack victims experience symptoms, 20% of heart attacks are silent, meaning the person does not experience any symptoms . Silent heart attacks are more common in patients with diabetes . STEMI and NSTEMI heart attacks have the same symptoms .
Women typically report more symptoms, including digestive issues and pain, than men [2,3,7,10]. Men are more likely to have a heart attack . However, women are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis and often have a more difficult time recovering from a heart attack .
A heart attack is due to a blockage in an artery, while a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is due to a problem with the electrical firing in the heart . During an SCA, the victim loses all cardiac function, collapses, and goes unconscious . Survival is possible, but immediate medical attention is necessary.
If you witness someone collapse and stop breathing, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR immediately. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, start the machine and follow its instructions.
By living a healthy lifestyle, you can prevent heart attacks. The following are some ways to prevent heart disease and heart attacks [3,13].
Heart attack risk factors include :
Here are a few tips to keep your lifestyle healthy:
Here are a few ways to proactively manage your heart health:
Everlywell's Heart Health Test measures cholesterol and hs-CRP levels and may help determine heart disease risk when results are shared with a healthcare provider. You can also talk to a healthcare provider about your heart health through virtual care visits accessed via Everlywell.