Ms. Smith was watching TV late one evening when she felt a pressure like sensation in the middle of her chest. At first she thought it was indigestion, however, the pain was quite different in character than anything she had experienced before. It wasn’t constant either; instead it would go away and then come back. She also had some shortness of breath and felt nauseated. As the pain intensified Ms. Smith became increasingly anxious, and this led her to call EMS. Paramedics arrived minutes later. They immediately performed an electrocardiogram (ECG), which demonstrated the telltale pattern of a heart attack.

The patient was hurriedly placed on a stretcher and loaded into the ambulance. The hospital was alerted; summoning an entire army of medical professionals who would shortly meet the patient in person. As the ambulance sped through the streets, with sirens screaming and lights flashing, Ms. Smith’s chest pain intensified again. Nitroglycerin, in the form of a small pill, was placed under her tongue and provided some relief. On arrival to the hospital the patient was rushed inside and pushed down the hall to the cardiac catheterization lab, where staff were actively preparing for a life-saving emergent coronary angiogram.

Once in the lab, the hospital staff congregated around her. The patient was rapidly transferred onto the cold, hard x-ray table, and draped in sterile sheets. In anticipation of the procedure, she was given IV medication, which had a calming effect and numbed her pain. The cardiologist on call quickly and smoothly performed an angiogram. After identifying the blocked artery, a wire was advanced into the diseased vessel and pushed through the blockage. A tiny balloon was then inflated to further open the vessel, followed by placement of a permanent stent (tiny wire cage).   As blood flow returned to the heart Mrs. Smith’s chest pain eased up.

Ultimately, Ms. Smith survived, with her heart only minimally damaged. She is the beneficiary of the changing face of cardiac care. At the forefront of this evolution is the rapid coordination of medical teams, which allows the timely delivery of life-saving medical treatments. Patient outcomes are further improved with new technologies in the cardiac catheterization lab along with the use of modern medications.

Northwest Cardiovascular Institute, in partnership with Legacy Health and Adventist Health, utilizes these technological innovations to deliver advanced cardiac care to patients in the Pacific Northwest. We also specialize in the prevention and treatment of both patients’ with CAD and those at high risk.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, typically occurs when one of the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood to the heart, becomes blocked. The section of the heart supplied by the vessel is unable to get oxygenated blood, and if blood flow is not restored quickly, part of the heart begins to die.

Although there are many causes of heart attacks, they most frequently occur as a result of coronary artery disease (CAD), also called atherosclerotic heart disease. CAD is a result of the build-up of a plaque-like substance in the coronary arteries made of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. It occurs over many years. After developing plaque in the arteries, certain areas can become unstable and rupture inside the vessel. A clot can form on the broken plaque’s surface and block the blood flow through the artery. If the blockage is not treated quickly, the part of the heart supplied by the artery dies, and forms a scar. Sometimes the scar is evident on an electrocardiogram (ECG) or echocardiogram, and if large enough leads to significant weakening of the heart muscle.

Each year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Even with all of our technological innovations, heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in both men and women. If you or someone you love has signs of a heart attack it is important to act quickly. Since half of the men, and two-thirds of the women, who die suddenly of CAD have no prior symptoms, it is equally as important to reduce your chances of having a heart attack.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Most Common Symptoms

  • Chest Pain or Discomfort –
  • Other Upper Body Discomfort and/or Radiation of Pain –
  • Shortness of Breath –

Other Associated Signs and Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Breaking Out in a Cold Sweat
  • Unusual Fatigue
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness


Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Factors You Can’t Change

  • Increasing Age
  • Male Sex
  • Heredity

Factors You Can Modify

  • Tobacco Smoke
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Obesity and Overweight

Other Contributing Factors

  • Stress
  • Alcohol – Excessive alcohol use
  • Diet and Nutrition