Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.
Coronary artery disease, also known as CAD, is the most common cause of death in America. It kills more people each year that the next 2 major causes of death combined. All cells of the body need oxygen to remain alive and the heart is no different. The heart has its own arteries, called coronary arteries, which transport blood rich in oxygen to its tissues. When the blood supply to the heart is compromised, most commonly as a result of hardening of the arteries, the muscle cells of the heart become damaged and can even die.
Acute Coronary Syndrome, ACS, is a term that refers to several different clinical situations in which blood flow to the heart is compromised. These include the following:
unstable angina, NSTEMI, and STEMI.
Unstable angina refers angina that occurs at rest, as opposed to with activity, angina of recent onset severe angina (less than 2 months), or angina that is increasing in intensity, duration, and/or frequency. Unstable angina is not a true heart attack, but people with unstable angina are at a very high risk of having a heart attack.
NSTEMI refers to a heart attack in which the EKG does not show classic elevation of an important segment called the ST segment. MI refers to myocardial infarction. Therefore, NSTEMI means Non-ST segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction. It is a true heart attack, but is treated somewhat differently from a STEMI.
STEMI is, you guessed it, ST segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction. This is the only form of ACS that is treated by clot busters.
Minutes matter when you are having an attack of ACS. Therefore, it is crucial that you seek medical attention immediately if you have concerning symptoms. It is important to note that women, older individuals, and diabetics often have atypical symptoms and may experience no chest pain at all. As a matter of fact, a lot of heart attacks are actually silent or go unrecognized until an EKG is done in the future and the doctor notices classic findings of a prior myocardial infarction.
Common symptoms of ACS include:
Chest pain, pressure, heaviness, or tightness
Chest pain that radiates to the shoulders, back, 1 or both arms, neck, or jaw
Nausea or vomiting associated with chest discomfort
Persistent shortness of breath
Severe pain in stomach, no the abdomen per se, but the stomach region which is in the middle upper abdomen just below the ribcage
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