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During a heart attack, your heart is damaged due to lack of blood and oxygen. This damage can lead to several complications immediately following the heart attack or later in recovery. The more quickly you receive medical attention following a heart attack, the better your chances are of avoiding complications.
Complications following a heart attack also depend on what part of the heart was damaged, the extent of the damage, and the time since symptoms first appeared.
The most common complication following a heart attack is heart arrhythmia. Because of damage to the muscle, the heart can start to beat erratically as it struggles to keep pumping. Administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and using Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) can often help jolt the heart’s electrical system back into a normal rhythm. It is not uncommon to put people at risk for arrhythmia on medication to try to reduce the production and spread of dangerous arrhythmias.
Unfortunately, recurrent heart attacks are common. Studies show that as many as 20 percent of people who suffer from a heart attack will experience an additional heart attack within the next six weeks.
Sometimes a heart attack damages the heart muscle so much that the heart can no longer function properly. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump an adequate supply of blood to your body, resulting in shortness of breath and fatigue. Cardiac rehabilitation may help the heart muscle heal, but some damage is so severe it results in chronic heart failure. Heart failure is a long-term condition that requires close monitoring by your doctor.
There are four valves in the heart. These valves open to let blood flow in and shut to keep blood from flowing backward. A heart attack can damage the valves, causing blood to leak in the wrong direction. Depending on the extent of the damage, valve disorders can be treated with medications and surgery.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on: Feb 15, 2011
Medically reviewed : Jennifer Monti, MD
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