Even if you have never heard the term “myocardial infarction”, chances are good that you are familiar with the condition. Also called a heart attack, this condition kills millions of Americans every year. It is a life-threatening condition that must be caught quickly in order to prevent death and to help alleviate potential damage in individuals who survive.
What Is Myocardial Infarction?
Myocardial infarction is better known as a heart attack. It is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. If you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms, call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a myocardial infarction
“occurs when a portion of the heart is deprived of oxygen due to blockage of a coronary artery. Coronary arteries supply the heart muscle (myocardium) with oxygenated blood. Without oxygen, muscle cells served by the blocked artery begin to die (infarct).”
The Mayo Clinic further explains,
“A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage is most often a buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries). The plaque eventually breaks away and forms a clot. The interrupted blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.”
What Are the Symptoms of Myocardial Infarction?
Being able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack is the key to survival. Most people are aware that pain in the chest and shortness of breath are among the signs to look for, there are many others that may present. It is also very possible for two people having heart attacks to have almost completely different symptoms. Some of the most common signs of myocardial infarction include the following:
- Pain in the back, chest, jaw or other area of the upper body that lasts several minutes, or that fades away and then returns
- Pressure in the chest
- Pain radiating down the left arm
- Shortness of breath
- Upper back pain
- Accelerated heart rate
- Severe new onset of a heartburn
What Causes Myocardial Infarction?
Technically, the cause of myocardial infarction is oxygen starvation of the heart muscle. The blood carries oxygen to the heart, which is necessary for its function and tissue survival. When that supply of oxygen is blocked by a clot, the tissue begins to die.
How Do You Prevent the Condition?
While it is possible to survive a heart attack, prevention is always the better strategy. There are numerous ways to reduce your chance of suffering a myocardial infarction, including the following:
- Hypertension: Those with high blood pressure have a higher risk of heart attack – reduce your blood pressure with diet, exercise, and, if necessary, medication.
- Lose Weight: Obesity is one of the most significant risk factors, so losing weight can decrease your risk of a heart attack.
- Diabetes: Diabetics have a higher risk of experiencing a heart attack. Controlling your diabetes can be a key step in avoiding this condition.
- Exercise: A lack of physical activity is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. Getting enough exercise is an important preventative step.
However, there are several situations that increase your risk of a myocardial infarction that cannot be controlled. For instance, a family history of heart attack increases your risk significantly. A history of preeclampsia in pregnancy, and autoimmune conditions also increase your risk.
What Treatments Are Available to Patients?
Treating a myocardial infarction requires immediate medical attention. Time is of the essence – call 911 immediately if you suspect that you or someone around you is experiencing a heart attack.
Once in a hospital, chances are good that a surgeon will perform an angioplasty to remove the blockage within the artery - this procedure involves inflating a small balloon inside the affected artery to reopen the flow of blood to the heart. A stent may also be placed at the location of the blockage to prevent it from closing back. In some cases, patients may require a coronary artery bypass graft to reroute veins and arteries around the blockage.
In addition to surgical intervention, your doctor may use a number of medications to help treat the condition and prevent it from recurring. Blood thinners, antiplatelet drugs, beta-blockers, and pain relievers can all be used to make you more comfortable and address your heart health.
What Role Might Stem Cell Therapy Play?
Stem cells are the body’s building blocks and the foundation of our ability to heal and repair damage. While they can do little to prevent heart attacks from occurring, they do play a key role in the later healing process. A myocardial infarction not only creates scar tissue, but also destroys tissue cells. Replacing those cells and healing scar tissue is vital - stem cells can help to achieve this.
A study published in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences noted that stem cells may be able to provide just this sort of healing. Another study, this one published in the journal Bioengineering, indicates that mesenchymal stem cells may be able to
“regenerate damaged myocardium in both animal and human models”.
Yet another study, published in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, notes that stem cells play an important role in cardiac repair and regeneration of compromised heart muscle.
Interestingly, it seems that healing of a heart muscle (myocardium) may be achieved equally well with three completely different ways of stem cell delivery to the heart – either by injecting them right into a heart muscle, infusing into a heart artery through a catheter or even by infusion into a peripheral vein when stem cells travel to the heart, settle there and regenerate the damaged muscle.
Stem Cell Types
It should be noted that both autologous and allogeneic stem cells are used in these studies. Autologous stem cells are harvested from the patient, grown in a lab, and then reintroduced to the body. These cells are less energetic than is ideal, and carry genetic damage that often incites an immune response from the body. They are also less able to differentiate into other cell types.
Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue. These pluripotent stem cells are easily able to transform into other tissue types, are very energetic, and are invisible to the immune system.
Currently, additional study is required to determine how best to use stem cells to treat myocardial infarction. However, the future is bright and this technique will eventually provide hope for heart attack survivors. Note that there are currently no FDA-approved stem cell therapies and all such treatments are experimental only.