How Long Does A Heart Attack Last?

Contents

Overview

A heart attack is a serious medical emergency, if you or someone else is experiencing one please call for a medical emergency unit, ambulance or 999 (UK). A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscles is blocked by a blood clot and, without enough oxygen and blood this can lead to heart damage. A heart attack can last a few minutes but the build-up of one can appear suddenly or over a few hours. 

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack usually occurs when the supply of blood flow to the heart is blocked by a blood clot. This can cause chest pain and many other symptoms which can lead to a cardiac arrest. Please seek medical attention immediately if this is occurring to you or someone else. If the heart attack is not treated immediately this can cause extensive heart damage. 

Signs and Symptoms of a heart attack 

How severe the symptoms are can depend on your age, gender and any existing medical conditions.

Symptoms to look out for :

Chest pain, or any discomfort that may manifest as pressure/ squeezing/ heaviness in the chest. Such symptoms may feel like heartburn or indigestion. Another sign is pain spreading from your left to right arm to neck, jaw, back and stomach. You may also experience feeling of being sick, sweaty, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath.

Less common signs and symptoms of a heart attack may include similar feelings of panic attack like a sudden feeling of anxiety, excessive coughing or wheezing due to a build-up of fluid in the lungs, fatigue, lightheadedness and sudden dizziness. Women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back and jaw pain. 

A combination of these symptoms may occur at the same time. Dizziness coupled with chest pain and shortness in breath may lead to a decrease in blood volume and significant drop in blood pressure. Such symptoms could mean a heart attack is on the way. 

If you are experiencing these symptoms or someone else is please seek medical attention from a healthcare professional. 

How long does a heart attack last?

Typically a heart attack can last from 15 to 20 minutes, However, the build up to the heart attack, the symptoms and signs can start suddenly or unexpectedly.

When would the symptoms begin?

Symptoms of a heart attack can begin suddenly which can lead to a cardiac arrest. Others may experience heart attack symptoms for a few minutes which may come and go away over several hours before the attack occurs. Alternatively, symptoms may slowly build up over a few hours , days or months before the main heart attack occurs. Symptoms of a heart attack may occur at any time, while you are active or resting. Also it is found that people with diabetes may in fact have no symptoms at all. 

Does the duration vary from person to person?

The duration of a heart attack may vary from suddenly intense and immediate to occurring multiple times over several hours. 

Treatment

Why is immediate medical care required?

This is a serious health matter that should not be taken lightly. The quicker the response time to helping those who are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, the less heart damage will occur. After experiencing a heart attack,  please seek medical attention immediately from emergency services or a healthcare professional. You can drive yourself to the hospital or emergency room but for your safety and others please seek external help from a healthcare provider. An ambulance or paramedics will be able to start you on treatment immediately and are trained to revive your heart if it were to stop. 

What happens if a heart attack is left untreated?

If a heart attack is left untreated it can lead to serious complications or even death. 

Recovery

The main way to recover after a heart attack is through surgery, specifically open heart surgery to repair any damage to the heart muscles due to blood clots. Another way is through Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) which is the insertion of a small, intra- aortic balloon pump which helps improve the blood flow to and from the heart. Also, a coronary artery bypass graft may be used. This is when a blood vessel from another part of the body is used to redirect blood around the section of a blocked or partially blocked artery in your heart.

Most people will stay in the hospital for a week or less. owever, it can take a couple of months to fully recover and it is important to not rush back into your previous lifestyle to enable a full recovery.  You will need to gradually return to your normal lifestyle and restore your physical fitness to reduce your chances of having another heart attack. Finally, seek support and help for a range of healthcare professionals and loved ones. 

Complications

Complication can vary widely from person-to-person and may be mild or life threatening. Those who experience a “minor” or “mild” heart attack may have no associated complications however this is not always the case. After a major heart attack there can be a wide range of complications that may require treatment from a healthcare provider. Outlined below are some of complications that may arise.

Arrhythmia, this is when you have an abnormal heartbeat. There are a few types: 

  • Too quickly (Superventricular)
  • Too slowly (Bradycardia)
  • Irregularly (Atrial Fibrillation)

These arrhythmias can be a major cause of death during the first 24 to 48 hours after a heart attack. 

Damage to heart muscles due the heart attack can disrupt electrical signals to control the heart. Further symptoms can occur due to the heart damage such as heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, fatigue and breathlessness or complete heart block.

Another complication is heart failure, which is when the heart is unable to effectively pump blood around the body due to extensive heart muscle damage This mainly occurs on the left side of the heart. Swelling in the arm and legs due to the buildup of fluid, breathlessness and fatigue may also ensue.

Furthermore, a person can go into cardiogenic shock. This is when the damage to the heart muscles is so severe it can no longer pump enough blood to maintain key bodily functions. This cancause a range of symptoms such as mental confusion, rapid heart beat, cold hands and feet, and adecreased or eliminated need to  urinate.

Finally, an uncommon complication that may occur that is very serious is heart rapture.his is when the heart muscles, walls or valves split apart. Usually this happens 1 to 5 days after a heart attack and would require open heart surgery to repair the damage.

Summary

How long does a heart attack last? The duration of a heart attack can range from a few minutes to several hours. Symptoms such as chest pain, discomfort, left or right arm pain orlosing feeling in parts of the body. Please seek medical attention immediately if you or someone else is experiencing these feelings to limit heart muscle damage.

References

  1. Heart attack: Symptoms, risk factors, and prevention [Internet]. Health Guide. [cited 2022 Aug 2]. Available from: https://ro.co/health-guide/heart-attack/
  2. Wiles R, Kinmonth A-L. Patients’ understandings of heart attack: implications for prevention of recurrence. Patient Educ Couns [Internet]. 2001 [cited 2022 Aug 2];44(2):161–9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11479056/

Author: Siya Mistry

Masters of Science - MSc Health Psychology, Birmingham City University, England
Siya is a MIND Volunteer who supports clients one-to-one in a non-judgmental way in the local area with mental health problems and engages in social activities.

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