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What is a Heart Attack?
April 2000

Q. What is a heart attack?

A. A "heart attack" is not a medical term. Doctors most often use the phrase "myocardial infarction" (you may have heard it abbreviated "MI"). That technical term beautifully describes what it is: "myo" is muscle, "cardio" is heart, and "infarction" is death?so an MI is literally something that results in the death of some heart muscle. This usually occurs because not enough blood is getting to the heart muscle.

Naturally, all of the heart muscle does not die, for if it did, the person would die. Sometimes we refer to an MI that resulted in only a small amount of heart muscle death as a "mild heart attack." It is important to realize that the potential danger of an MI depends on both the location (which part of the heart is affected) and the size (how much of the heart is affected). Thus, it is possible for a mild heart attack to be quite significant.

An MI affects the person because the heart either stops pumping as well or because of irregularities that occur in the heart beat. Both of these complications can often be treated, but prompt medical attention is important. If the treatment is successful and the damage is not too great, a person can often make a wonderful recovering after an MI.

From the American Heart Association's main web site (http://americanheart.org/) you will find links to warning signs and risk assessment, an easy reference guide, prevention activities, and more education material about heart disease.

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