New Jersey Environmental Public Health Tracking Program

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Heart Attack (Acute Myocardial Infarction)

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart is interrupted, frequently due to a blockage of an artery by plaques comprised of a collection of fats and white blood cells.  Blockage of a coronary artery deprives the heart muscle of blood and oxygen, causing injury to the heart muscle.  This injury is often perceived as either chest pain or a sensation of pressure.  Other classic symptoms of AMI include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, sweating, and anxiety.  Approximately one quarter of all myocardial infarctions are silent, without chest pain or other symptoms.

What Factors Increase the Risk of Heart Attacks?

Heart attacks are a consequence of underlying heart disease.  Risk factors for heart disease include: high levels of low-density lipoprotein ("bad cholesterol") and triglycerides in the blood; high blood pressure; diabetes mellitus; a diet high in saturated fat; physical inactivity; obesity; and excessive alcohol use.

Recent research has shown that fine particulate matter air pollution can increase the risk of heart attacks.

What is Being Done to Protect Human Health?

To prevent heart disease, people should prevent and control high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  Since tobacco smoking increases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, quitting smoking will lower the risk of heart attack.  People should also maintain a healthy weight, eat an overall healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Alcohol should only be used in moderation.

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