Heart Attack - Minnesota Department of Health

Heart Attack

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when the vessels supplying blood to the heart become blocked. Heart muscle tissue is deprived of oxygen, resulting in tissue death.

Blockage can occur slowly through the buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances, called plaque. This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. If the plaque breaks open and a blood clot forms that blocks the blood flow, a heart attack occurs.

Signs and symptoms

Someone having a heart attack may experience only one, or several of these warning signs:

  • Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

If you are possibly having a heart attack, it is an emergency. Call 9-1-1 immediately!


A STEMI (ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction) is the most severe type of heart attack. About 3,000 Minnesotans experience a STEMI and an additional 7,000 Minnesotans experience non-STEMIs each year.

Patients experiencing a STEMI need immediate care to reopen the blocked artery. The goal is to open the blocked artery within 90 minutes of the start of the heart attack.

The preferred treatment is called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), which physically removes the blockage using a catheter and stent to keep the artery open. If patients are unable to be treated with PCI, they will usually receive medication to break up the clot, called thrombolytic therapy.

Presently, only a select group of large Minnesota hospitals have the equipment to perform the preferred treatment for STEMI. MDH designates hospitals as STEMI Receiving Centers to ensure Minnesotans receive the best STEMI care possible. Read more about STEMI Systems of Care.

Key facts:

  • Thirty percent of STEMI patients fail to receive PCI or thrombolytic therapy.
  • Of those who receive PCI, only forty percent are treated within 90 minutes.
  • Of those who receive thrombolytic therapy, fewer than half are treated within the recommended door-to-needle timeframe of 30 minutes.
  • Seventy percent of those patients who aren’t eligible for thrombolytic therapy fail to receive PCI, the only other option to restore blood flow to blocked arteries.

Additional Resources

Updated Friday, 11-Oct-2019 11:45:10 CDT