Complications of a Heart Attack

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What are the complications of a heart attack?

If you have suffered a heart attack, you may be at risk of developing certain complications. These do not occur in all patients with a heart attack, but must be borne in mind.

A heart attack can damage the heart tissue, making it vulnerable to development of complications. Below is a brief list of complications that may be seen after a heart attack.

1. Abnormal heart rhythms

An abnormal heart rhythm, also called an ‘arrhythmia’, is a well recognised complication of a heart attack. Damage to the heart muscle can disrupt the flow of electrical impulses along the heart muscle, leading to these arrhythmias. Some of the common ones include

  • Ventricular ectopics (VE) – Odd extra heart beats originating from the ventricle. Usually not fatal.
  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT) – Fast, regular heart beat from the ventricle. Can be fatal in some cases.
  • Ventricular fibrillation (VF) – Extremely fast heart which is fatal if not treated immediately.

The problem with these rhythms is that they can be quite serious. In some cases, they can be fatal as well. Ventricular fibrillation is particularly serious as the heart beats extremely fast and inefficiently. Blood to the vital organs like the brain and kidney shuts down, and unless treated as an emergency can be life-threatening.

One of the most common reasons why patients die from a heart attack is ventricular fibrillation. This is usually the case when the patient has had a heart attack at home and has not reached the hospital yet. However, if a VF occurs in-hospital, then emergency shock treatment can be administered which is life-saving.

2. Heart failure

Heart failure is a condition where the heart muscle fails to pump blood effectively. This means that the essential blood and nutrients does not reach the vital organs. Patients with heart failure can be extremely unwell, and require aggressive treatment. Retention of fluid is a problem, and this could lead to breathing difficulty, swelling of the legs and multi-organ failure.

3. Hole in the heart

If the patients suffers a large heart attack, the damage muscle can rupture and form a hole in the heart. The common type of hole is seen in the inter-ventricular septum, and is called a ‘post infarct ventricular septal defect’. Alternatively, the outer surface of the heart which is weakened by the heart attack can rupture. This is fatal.

4. Problems with the heart valves

Sometimes, a heart attack can damage the thin tissues that support the heart valve. This makes the heart valves ‘floppy’, allowing blood to leak through it. This can be quite severe in some cases, and can push a patient into severe heart failure. This can be life-threatening.

How to prevent complications

The best way to prevent complications of a heart attack is to seek treatment in hospital and follow the advice the doctor gives you. A number of these complications can be prevented by just being monitored in a coronary care unit. Timely treatment given can be life-saving.

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