Heart Attack

This information is useful for adults
A close up of an elderly man's hands on his chest, he is wearing a blue and white flannel shirt.
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our doctors have experience recognizing and treating various types of heart attacks in both men and women.
  • Our doctors have set the national standard for providing timely care to people experiencing a heart attack—driven by our interventional cardiologists and by our research.
  • Our Cardiac Rehabilitation Program helps patients recover physically, mentally, and emotionally from heart attacks.

You’ve seen it on TV shows, you’ve read about it in magazines—heart attack is one of the best known medical emergencies, and one of the leading causes of death in the United States. However, many people don’t know how to recognize a heart attack even when it’s happening to them. Symptoms can range from a subtle twinge to extreme pain. Whatever symptoms you experience, mild or intense, it’s important to get to a doctor as quickly as possible. Time makes a huge difference in whether or not a person survives a heart attack, and their health going forward.

“The quicker we can get a person having a heart attack into the cardiac catheterization lab the better,” says Dr. Erica Spatz, MD, MHS, a cardiologist at Yale Medicine. “Yale has been a leader in establishing that time matters in treating heart attacks.”

The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body through an intricate network of arteries. However, the arteries around your heart can get blocked, usually by a blood clot and less often because of severe spasms and dissection. When this happens, blood flow is slowed or blocked. Over time, the oxygen-starved heart tissue dies. Blood clots can form when plaque that has built up in the artery ruptures. Spasms can be caused by certain drugs, like cocaine, emotional stress or pain, exposure to extreme cold, or smoking. Dissections can occur spontaneously; sometimes they occur with pregnancy.