Heart Attack is Diagnosed and Treated by Mercy's Cardiologists


This animation shows the coronary vessels in the heart and the different ways they may become blocked. The animation reviews symptoms of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) and common treatments for ACS and heart attack.

The doctors at The Heart Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, have extensive experience in the diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks, also known as myocardial infarction. Mercy’s physician team is dedicated to thorough patient education to help patients identify warning signs of a heart attack and to help them live a more healthy lifestyle.

About the Condition

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when the normal amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing into the heart is greatly reduced or completely cut off. Interrupted blood flow to the heart can damage or destroy parts of the heart muscle and increase the risk of heart failure or sudden death. Most often, heart attacks are caused by blockage of one or more coronary arteries due to plaque (cholesterol deposits) and blood clot formation.

NEXT: Symptoms & Diagnostic Process ›
Symptoms & Diagnostic Process

A heart attack may happen suddenly with intense pain, or it can begin slowly with chest discomfort and other symptoms becoming stronger over minutes or hours. Some or all of these symptoms may be present:

  • Discomfort or pain in center of chest that may feel like indigestion or heartburn
  • Discomfort or pain in arms, back, neck, jaw, stomach
  • Squeezing, pressure in chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Anxiety or impending sense of doom
  • Cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness

Symptoms in women can be confusing and are often different than in men. They may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Jaw or back pain
  • Upper back pressure
  • Pain in lower chest or upper stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue

If symptoms last more than a few minutes, or come and go, seek help immediately or call 911.

Diagnostic tests for a heart attack include:

NEXT: Treatment Options ›
Treatment Options

Starting treatment as quickly as possible can prevent or lessen damage to heart muscle and most importantly, save your life. Treatment will depend on the mildness or severity of the heart attack. Medications may include:

  • Clot buster drugs (antithrombolytics)
  • Platelet aggregation inhibitors
  • Blood thinners
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Beta blockers
  • ACE inhibitors

Surgery may also be necessary:

  • Coronary angioplasty procedure, sometimes with permanent placement of a metal mesh stent to keep the coronary artery open
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery may be needed, either at the time of the heart attack, or after recovery

After you have recovered from a heart attack, your doctor may advise some lifestyle changes to ensure continued good health:

  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise regularly as advised by your doctor
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Limit alcohol
  • Find methods to deal with stress
  • Have regular checkups
NEXT: Patient Stories ›
Patient Stories
Heart Center at Mercy - Baltimore, MD


Debra is a fit and active woman, but she still suffered a heart attack. Now she wants to teach others the different symptoms women could have when suffering a heart attack.

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