A heart attack is injury to the heart muscle caused by a loss of blood supply. While heart attacks can be caused by an unhealthy life style, lack of exercise, poor diet, and stress, recently, heart attacks have been linked to a number of defective drugs, including Vioxx, Bextra, Celebrex and Zelnorm.
Heart attacks can be fatal. If a heart attack victim survives, he or she may require extensive and expensive medical intervention. In many cases, victims of drug-induced heart attacks are entitled to receive compensation for their heart attack. Often, drug companies are aware of the significant heart damage caused by their drugs, but do not properly inform doctors of patients. These companies are required to compensate the victims of these defective drugs. An attorney can assist a heart attack victim and a victim’s family in receiving compensation for emotional stress, to cover medical bills and expenses, and punitive damages.
What is a Heart Attack?
The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body. As a muscle, the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, which carries vital materials necessary for survival.
A heart attack is the result of one or more of the heart’s arteries that supply the heart with blood becoming damaged or blocked. Blockages are usually due to blood clots that form when an artery has been narrowed or blocked over years of cholesterol buildup. However, certain drugs have also been linked with causing heart attacks by damaging the coronary arteries, preventing blood from reaching the heart. These drugs include Vioxx, Bextra, Celebrex and Zelnorm.
If blood flow is not restored to the heart, heart cells die and scar tissue forms. Decreased blood flow to the heart may also trigger arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythms that can be fatal.
Causes of Heart Attacks
Heart attacks can be caused when one or more coronary artery becomes narrowed or blocked from years of cholesterol buildup or buildup from other substances. The buildup of cholesterol and other substances (plaques) is called atherosclerosis. When coronary arteries narrow due to atherosclerosis, the condition is known as coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is a major cause of heart attacks.
Heart attacks can also be caused by blood clots that form as a result of the use of certain prescription drugs (Vioxx, Bextra, Celebrex and Zelnorm) that thicken the blood, making it stickier and more likely to clot. Another cause of heart attack is coronary artery spasm, a condition that shuts down blood flow to part of the heart muscle. Illicit drugs, such as cocaine, can cause such a spasm.
Heart Attack Risk Factors
Risk factors (coronary risk factors) increase the chances of a person having a heart attack. These factors contribute to the build of plaques, debris, or blood clots that narrow coronary arteries. Some coronary risk factors include:
Smoking: Smoking tobacco or long-term exposure to second hand tobacco smoke damage the heart’s arteries and allow cholesterol deposits to collect and decrease blood flow to the heart. Smoking also increases the risks of forming blood clots.
High Blood Pressure (hypertension): Hypertension can damage the heart’s arteries by accelerating atherosclerosis. While hypertension can be caused by genetics, it may also be caused by diets high in salt (sodium), lack of physical activity, and obesity.
Obesity: Obese individuals have a high percentage of body fat, which contributes to the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
Diabetes: Diabetes is a condition in which the body is unable to produce or respond to a hormone secreted by the pancreas called insulin. Insulin allows the body to use glucose, a form of sugar found in food. Diabetes increases the risk of heart attack by accelerating atherosclerosis and affecting blood cholesterol levels.
Defective Drugs: Certain defective drugs have been found to increase the risks of heart attacks by causing dangerous blood clots. These drugs include Vioxx, Bextra, Celebrex and Zelnorm.
A person can decrease their chances of heart attack by eliminating certain risk factors such as smoking, obesity, or stopping use of defective drugs. However, certain risk factors, such as heredity, can not be modified.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
A heart attack can occur at anytime while at rest or while in motion. Thought many heart attacks strike suddenly, some people experience heart attack symptoms days or even weeks in advance. The earliest heart attack symptom is usually chest pain (angina) that is brought on by physical exertion and relieved by rest. Angina is caused by temporary, insufficient blood flow to the heart (cardiac ischemia).
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. Heart attack symptoms in women, diabetic patients, and older adults may be less severe. Some heart attack victims have no symptoms. However, many people still experience severe symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pain, pressure, or fullness in the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes
- Pain in the chest that radiates into the left arm, back, teeth, and jaw
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Profuse sweating
- Flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and lightheadedness
A heart attack victim may experience a combination of these symptoms. Anyone with heart attack symptoms should seek immediate medical attention at a hospital emergency room or call paramedics.
Heart Attack Diagnosis
If a person experiences heart attack symptoms, he or she should seek the immediate medial attention of a physician at an emergency room. A physician evaluates the individual’s symptoms and listens to the patient’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Emergency room physicians may also conduct several tests to evaluate the symptoms, including an electrocardiogram (ECG), blood test, chest x-ray, echocardiogram, or coronary catheterization (angiogram).
Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG is often the first test conducted to diagnose a heart attack. An ECG records the heart’s electrical activity. For this test, a doctor attaches electrodes to the skin around the breastbone to record impulses. Theses electrical impulses are displayed on a monitor and then printed out on paper. An ECG can reveal an injured heart’s irregular electrical impulses and identify a heart attack.
Blood testing: A blood test may reveal if heart enzymes are have emptied into the blood stream. A damaged or injured heart will leak enzymes, increasing enzyme levels in the blood, revealing a heart attack.
Chest X-ray: A chest x-ray allows a physician to view the shape and size of the heart and blood vessels to evaluate if the heart is enlarged or damaged by a heart attack.
Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram test uses sound waves to evaluate the shape and size of the heart. During this test, sound waves are directed at the heart from a wand-like device (transducer) held on the chest. The sound waves bounce off the heart and reflect back through the chest wall. The waves are processed and a video image of the heart is produced. A physician evaluates the video to identify if an area of the heart has been damaged by heart attack.
Coronary catheterization (angiogram): This test evaluates if coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. For this test, a liquid dye is injected into the heart’s arteries through a catheter. The catheter is fed through an artery in the leg or other area of the body into the heart arteries. The dye fills the arteries and become visible on x-ray and video tape to reveal areas of blockage.
Following a heart attack, a person may also undergo a stress test. A stress test measures how the heart responds to exertion. For a stress test, a person walks on a treadmill or uses a stationary bike while attached to an ECG machine. Stress tests can help doctors to diagnose coronary artery disease, which may reveal future or impending heart attacks.
Heart Attack Treatment
After a heart attack victim is diagnosed at a hospital emergency room, immediate treatment is imperative. If a person is unconscious, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may be administered. CPR administers oxygen to the heart and brain.
A heart attack may trigger ventricular fibrillation, or unstable heart rhythm that produces an ineffective heart heat. Ventricular fibrillation is often fatal following a heart attack. To regulate the heart beat, emergency hospital staff or paramedics use an automatic external defibrillator (AED), which uses electrical impulses to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.
Once arrived at a hospital emergency room, a person may be treated with medications or surgical procedures to save his or her life and reduce the amount of damage to the heart.
Medications work by restoring blood flow to the heart. These medications are usually administered through a vein the arm (intravenously), and include:
Aspirin: Aspirin inhibits blood clotting and helps maintain blood blow through a narrowed artery. Aspirin may be given by emergency medical staff as soon as a person arrives at a hospital.
Thrombolytics: Thrombolytics work by dissolving blot clots that block blood flow to the heart.
Blood thinners: Blood thinners, like aspirin, work to make the blood thinner, less sticky, and less likely to form dangerous blood clots.
Beta blockers: Beta blockers work by relaxing the heart muscles to slow the heartbeat and decrease blood pressure.
Cholesterol-lowering medication: Statins, niacin, fibrates, and bile acid sequestrants are cholesterol-lowering medications that may help to improve a person’s chances of survival.
Nitroglycerin: Nitroglycerine temporarily opens blood vessels and arteries to improve blood flow to the heart.
While medications may help improve the chances of survival from a heart attack, surgical treatment may be necessary to improve blood flow to the heart and prevent future heart attacks:
Coronary artery bypass surgery: in some cases, a bypass surgery is performed after a heart attack. A bypass involves sewing heart arteries in place at a site beyond a blocked or narrowed coronary artery to restore blood flow to the heart.
Coronary angioplasty: A coronary angioplasty opens blocked coronary arteries to allow blood to more freely flow to the heart. This procedure may be most beneficial almost immediately after a heart attack.
Contact a defective drug attorney today if you believe a heart attack was caused by defective drug usage.