Heart Attack | Myocardial Infarction | Signs & Symptoms | MedStar Health

Get help right away for this life-threatening heart condition

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI), may cause permanent damage to the heart muscle when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. This usually occurs because of coronary artery disease.

Our interventional cardiologists use emergency cardiac angioplasties to treat hundreds of heart attack patients each year. Our cardiac surgery program  has some of the best patient outcomes in the country, and we perform thousands of surgeries each year for even the most complex cases. We developed and perfected beating-heart (off-pump) surgery for coronary artery bypass grafts in the 1990s, and today, we perform nearly half of all our bypass procedures using this advanced approach. After treatment, our cardiac rehabilitation program  will help you recover and improve your heart health.

Myocardial Infarction

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A myocardial infarction, is another term for heart attack. If blockage of a coronary artery exceeds 70%, the risk is increased for experiencing a heart attack.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

Symptoms may come on suddenly, or you may have them for days or weeks before a heart attack. If you experience any of these possible heart attack symptoms, call 911 immediately:

  • Chest pain, also known as angina, which can feel like a tightness or heaviness in the chest

  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or anxiety
  • Nausea, vomiting, or severe indigestion or heartburn
  • Pain that spreads from the chest to the arms, neck, jaw, belly, or back
  • Excessive sweating, including a cold sweat
  • Trouble breathing

Heart attack symptoms in women may be different than those in men. Though both men and women are likely to experience chest pain, women are slightly more likely than men to experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations, or fluttering, rapid heartbeats

  • Pain in the upper back or shoulder


If we suspect you’re having a heart attack, we’ll test you immediately to confirm or rule out that diagnosis. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Carotid Duplex Ultrasound

Carotid duplex ultrasound uses Doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to your brain.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Fractional Flow Reserve

Fractional flow reserve, also known as FFR, is a measurement of how well blood can flow through the coronary arteries. Narrowing or blockages in these arteries can lead to a heart attack without treatment.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Pulse Volume Recording

Pulse volume recording tests are used to evaluate blood flow through the arteries in your arms or legs.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


Getting treatment fast is critical to save as much of your heart muscle as possible.


Angioplasty improves blood flow through the arteries by clearing plaque buildup.

Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

Coronary artery bypass surgery, also known as coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, restores normal blood flow through narrowed or blocked coronary arteries by using a healthy blood vessel taken from your leg, arm, or chest to create a detour around the problem area.

Off-Pump Bypass Surgery (Beating-Heart Bypass)

Off-pump bypass surgery, also known as beating-heart bypass surgery, is an option for many patients to have coronary artery bypass surgery without needing to stop the heart or lungs during the procedure.


Thrombolysis, also known as thrombolytic therapy, is a treatment to dissolve or break up dangerous blood clots that can cause heart attacks, strokes and other conditions.

Transradial Catheterization

Transradial catheterization is a form of cardiac catheterization in which doctors use the radial artery, located in the wrist, to treat many heart and vascular conditions.

What is your heart age?

Each year about 655,000 Americans die from heart disease – that’s one in every four deaths. Understanding your Heart Age is a way to assess your risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Some things put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke that you cannot change, such as getting older or your family history, but there are ways to lower your risk.

Additional information

Cardiac rehabilitation

Recover faster and improve your quality of life after heart disease or treatment with help from our exercise physiologists, physical therapists, and dietitians.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.