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Can Asphyxiation Cause a Heart Attack?

heart attack sign
Written by: Jennifer

Can asphyxiation cause a heart attack? If you’ve been watching the news lately, you may have heard the phrases “asphyxiation” and “heart attack” mentioned alongside COVID-19. And now you’re wondering, “can suffocation lead to cardiac arrest?”

The answer is yes. It can, but how it happens precisely is what we’ll explore in this article.

Let’s look at what asphyxiation is, define a heart attack, and understand how it occurs. In the end, we’ll investigate treatment options and ways to reduce the risk of a future heart attack.

What is Asphyxiation?

The act of asphyxia causes asphyxiation, also called suffocation. Suffocation occurs when your body fails to obtain enough oxygen to keep your vital organs working. When you breathe, your lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide; this process is interrupted when there isn’t enough oxygen. In addition, your cells need oxygen to make energy, so if they fail to receive oxygen, you may fall unconscious or, worse, your heart may stop, leading to death.

There are different kinds of asphyxiation, all with different causes. The most common is physical asphyxiation which happens when something keeps you from breathing. Choking, suffocation, strangulation, drug overdose, and seizure are common causes of physical asphyxiation.

Chemical asphyxiation is the second major cause of asphyxia. Asphyxiation by chemical happens when a chemical enters your bloodstream and replaces your oxygen with poisonous gas. Carbon monoxide, cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide poisoning are all causes of chemical asphyxiation.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) happens when all or part of your heart fails to get enough blood. A lack of blood flow comes from a blockage in the coronary artery running through the heart. If there isn’t enough oxygen-rich blood to supply the tissue in your heart, that tissue begins to die. At this point, the heart fails to pump adequately, leading to a heart attack, heart failure, and in some cases, your heart stops beating, which leads to death.

When the heart tissue begins to die, and the heart struggles to work correctly, you may experience shortness of breath, pain radiating into your extremities, sweating, and lightheadedness. According to Mayo Clinic, some people experience these symptoms weeks before a heart attack, while others notice them immediately.  

How are Heart Attacks Caused?

The leading cause of a heart attack is a blockage in the arteries that supply blood to or from the heart. However, not all heart attacks are caused by blockages.

Additional causes of heart attacks include:

  • Blockage in the Artery: A blockage in the medium or large artery occurs if plaque breaks open in the artery causing blood to clot around it.
  • Infections: Some viral infections make their way through your bloodstream and into your heart. COVID 19 is an example of a viral infection that could infect the heart leading to ventricular fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).
  • Coronary artery spasm: When a blood vessel hardens sufficiently or contains plaque, it may trigger a severe spasm, blocking blood flow. A coronary artery spasm causes vasospastic angina, variant angina, and Prinzmetal’s angina.
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD): SCAD occurs when the coronary artery suddenly tears open. What causes spontaneous coronary artery dissection is years of wear and tear in the heart’s artery.
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD): Coronary artery disease happens when too much plaque builds up in the arterial walls. This weakens the blood supply to other parts of the body. The first sign of CAD is often a heart attack.

Can Asphyxiation Cause a Heart Attack?

At this point, you’re likely still wondering, “Can suffocation cause cardiac arrest?” And the answer is yes; choking can lead to cardiac arrest. As we went over in the previous sections, any condition that causes the heart to lose oxygen leads to it failing, whether a blockage, sudden spasm, or injury.

Since asphyxiation causes your blood to stave off oxygen, vital tissues in the heart begin to die. This causes your heart to strain, triggering angina and leading to heart failure. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, asphyxia-induced cardiac arrest occurs in patients with airway obstruction, respiratory failure, pulmonary embolism, gas poisoning, drowning, and choking. If this condition isn’t corrected immediately, a person can be asphyxiated to death.

How Do You Manage Symptoms from Heart Attacks?

Heart attacks lead to a host of symptoms that appear before, during, and after a heart attack. Unfortunately, some people go on for years with symptoms after experiencing a heart attack. The most common are shortness of breath on exertion, exercise intolerance, and chest pain. Therefore, it is essential to manage these symptoms to improve your heart’s condition and reduce your risk of future heart attacks.

  • Flow Therapy: Flow therapy uses a non-invasive EECP technique to improve oxygen levels and blood flow without physical activity being involved.
  • Stop Smoking: Smoking increases your risk of a future heart attack by inducing plaque buildup. Smoking is also the leading cause of coronary artery disease.
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation: Cardiac rehabilitation is a program your doctor may refer you to if you’ve had surgery for a recent heart attack. This treatment is provided under supervision and designed to build up your tolerance for exercise and condition your heart.
  • Eat Healthier: Healthy lifestyle choices like incorporating heart-healthy foods can prevent future cardiac events.
  • Stress Management: High blood pressure from stress can strain your heart leading to chest pain. Stress management teaches you ways to work through your stress without physically affecting you.

How to Get Started with Flow Therapy

If you’ve had a heart attack and struggle with exercise intolerance or shortness of breath, Flow Therapy can help. Flow therapy employs the EECP technique to improve oxygen and blood flow without surgery or medications. This technique uses synchronized compression to mimic the body’s condition under gentle exercise. This painless treatment is especially beneficial for individuals that cannot exercise.

If you’re interested in Flow Therapy to manage heart attack symptoms due to asphyxiation, find a Flow Therapy center nearby.


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