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Avatar universal

What does it feel like to have a fatal heart attack?

Hi there

I need to know for two reasons.  My father died of an acute ruptured MI last week, despite having no health problems and never having seen the doctor much in the last 20 years.  He seemed to go out like a light but unfortunately we resuscitated and then the ambulance people did for about 1 hour 15 mins.  I say unfortunately because i am so frightened that my dad might have been concious through some of it and that he was terrified.

He went blue really quick.  Does it feel like suffocating?  That's what i'm worried about.

Secondly i'm worried for me.  I'm female and 39 years old.  I get 'twinges' in my chest and i've had an irregular heartbeat issue recently.  I am on treatment for hypothyroidism and when they increased my thyroxine the symptoms seemed to abate - but since dad's death i feel and am aware of my heart a lot.  I feel twinges, not pain and i'm aware of my heartbeat a lot.

My doctor is willing to give me a stress test but i have to wait for it to be arranged.  My last cholesterol check was very good, he said he'd wished a lot of people's were as good as that.  He's tried to reassure me but i'm frightened.  I'm not so much frightened of dying, but of suffocating.....that's why i need to know what it feels like?

I know that sounds crazy.

They tell you to call an ambulance the minute you feel a chest pain, well with those tiwnges i'd be doing it all the time......so what do i do?

thanks for your time!  :-)
35 Responses
84483 tn?1289941537
My condolences to you and yours on the lost of your father. My first cousin 56 year male died of a ruptured MI just a little over 3 weeks ago, I was speaking on the phone with him probably just about 30 minutes before he was found collapsed dead on the floor at his home, needless to say we are still in shock over his death.
He called me exactly one week before he died complaining of numbness in his left arm and his face along with tingling and pain, I advised him to go the ER immediately, he did not take my advice. This was Sunday 6 of Sept, Wednesday night he had to go to ER, they kept him in for 2 days , advised him his heart was swollen with fluid around it and released him on Friday, He died Sunday evening Sept 13.
I got a copy of his death certificate & autopsy report, the immediate cause of death was Cardiac tamponade due to a ruptured myocardial infarction, also advanced cardivascular atherosclerosis was noted.
Usually when one dies of a ruptured MI, the actual MI occurs 3-7 days earlier and instead of scarring a small % of persons will actually get necrosis of the heart muscle "decay" and basically the heart just explodes after a few days at least this is my understanding, my cousin was probably dead before he hit the floor.Once again you have my deepest sympathy, my cousin & I lived like brothers and I missed him terribly.
84483 tn?1289941537
I could have swore this was posted on the "Expert Forum", now its on the Community Forum, what went wrong, why was this question transferred?
187666 tn?1331176945
If you paid for the question, then it should be on the expert forum. I do believe there's a standard fee for asking the experts.

As for a sudden bleed out like that, the person usually becomes unconscious right away due to low blood flow to the brain. Normal people will faint if their blood pressure drops a bit too low. Your Dad's BP crashed and I'm sure he was not aware of anything during the resuscitation efforts.
712042 tn?1254572809
My condolences to you and your family. May I first highly suggest that you get a check up to ease your mind. Many of our body "twinges" are benign, others "twinges" may be our body telling us that things may not be quite right...especially in a woman's heart. May I state that sudden heart stopping may have VERY short seconds of intense pain but it causes lack of blood flow to brain and you pass out. That was my experience with cardiac arrest; caused by a sudden bad heart beat. I was in the right place at the time and was resuscitated after a few minutes with the 'paddle'. I came out of it only with the feeling of a bad burn to my chest and heart and without any knowledge of what went on in those prior minutes when doctors and nurses worked on me. I just know that when I went to the 'light', I no longer had pain. I hope this brings you some peace. Joan.
Avatar universal
Tickertock, Ireneo and Joanincarolina, thanks for your replies.

Tickertock i'm so sorry about what happened to your relative.  You must really feel what i am going through right now.  i did actually type out a long post to you the other night but i had difficulty logging on for some reason.

Ireneo, i thought dad had an upset stomach and had passed out.  Not that this was like him at all.  I ran outside to get neighbours to help because i don't feel my mother is very capable by herself and i was in a state.  i also took the phone with me and called for the ambulance.  A neighbour rushed into the house and i waited outside - still not aware it was a heart attack because the day before the person on the medical helpline had reassured us that it didn't sound like a heart problem, but a stomach bug (i have a bit of a phobia of anything to do with stomach's or being sick or anything so i was waiting outside.....now i cannot forgive myself).......the neighbour then came out and said 'it's ok he's coming round a bit now...'........that wasted even more precious time.

I must have wasted about 8 minutes with my panicking and calling neighbours before i went into the house.  By then a neighbour was helping my mother do cardiac compressions.  I saw what was happening and saw that he was blue and ran over and started mouth to mouth - i thought they were neglecting that part of it.  Now i realise they'd been instructed not to do mouth to mouth - apparently the rules are different now....by not doing mouth to mouth for a certain period and just doing chest compressions you can raise the blood pressure and encourage a spontaneous heartbeat.  ( i would encourage anyone to check this out thoroughly though before ever acting on it - as i think you have to start mouth to mouth after a certain period of time & i've read that these new rules are only for cardiac arrest)

I remember a little bit before then though when dad was still sat at the desk where it happened and he was making such an awful noise with his throat, like the death rattle......his face looked red and tense.  I'm so worried that he was partly concious then and knew what was going on and was terrified.

I'm usually so in control of everything and usually the knowledgeable one about everything in the family........but i didn't do things right when it mattered and i got the resuscitation wrong - how could i ever know that the breathing aspect would not be important - it's not something you could ever predict could change....

I just keep replaying everything over and over in my head.  One minute dad is alive.....and if i had acted differently he might still be alive.....those minutes were so crucial.  Now i'll never see him again......but worse than that, he lost his life and there was so much he wanted to do.

I feel like if i hadn't been overly reassured the night before by the medical helpline i might have twigged earlier that is was a heart attack.  I might have even got him to a doctor the night before - i would have insisted.

joanincarolina......do any of your family or the people that were with you tell you what you looked like when it happened?  Sorry to ask, it's just that dad looked so tense and red for a while and the 'death rattle' was going on but i am terrified that he was feeling like he was suffocating, or in so much pain that he couldn't respond to anything even though he was concious.  My doctor doesn't think he was concioius but i'll never know.  I don't know if i can live with the idea that my father might have had a terrfiying and painful death.  Iknow when he was fully concious and talking on the phone before it happened he looked like he had discomfort in the chest......but it didn't look like a terrifying pain....but then he put the phone down and just stared at the wall.  He wouldn't answer when i asked him if he was ok.  Just kept staring at the wall......i don't know if he was losing concioiusness then but he was still sat upright.  he just looked like he was staring at the wall and wouldn't answer......but he would have done.  So i don't know if it was terror that made him do that or if he was already losing conciousness.  Then there was like a sudden intake of breath and he did look fearful for a brief second then he just fell forward............up to this point i can take because i still didn't get the impression he was in terrifying pain - although it's possible........it's afterward, when i ran back into the house and his face was red and looked tense and i could hear the gurgling in his throat.

Sorry guys, as i said i just keep playing it over and over.  My father is still a person to me, he is still alive in my mind, he did not want this to happen.......and he would have wanted me to save him.  :-(
187666 tn?1331176945
I'm so so sorry you have those painful memories. Remember, he didn't know his face was red or blue or any other color. He probably just felt very weird and couldn't figure out what was going on. Then came confusion for a moment and then he was out.

There's some debate about whether mouth to mouth is or isn't necessary during CPR. So much depends on the circumstances. I do know they prefer many more compressions between breaths now. Still, in your Dad's case I don't think even trained professionals could have saved him considering the damage done in the heart. You did your best, you tried to round up help and then tried to help him directly. Sometimes we just can't fix it.

My Dad just died a year ago and I know that in time the good memories gradually push out the sad and painful ones. I hope you'll search and cling to the good memories as much as you can for now.
976897 tn?1379171202
"What does it feel like to have a fatal heart attack?"

Maybe I'm thinking along the wrong tracks here? Can anyone who has a 'fatal' heart attack describe how it felt?
187666 tn?1331176945
Obviously the patient won't be able to describe it but medically speaking we can point out what the body is doing and what each of those steps "feels" like when they occur. It only becomes fatal when there are too many steps and the person becomes biologically overwhelmed.
159619 tn?1538184537
I have to agree with ireneo, I don't think the poster expected anyone who survived a fatal MI to describe it, I would have thought that was obvious. I'm sure they were just looking for some information to help put them at ease.
Avatar universal
I realised the error in my question after i posted but i figured people would understand what i mean't, if they were sensitive enough that is.

Many people have had near death experiences so i think it's possible to describe to a certain degree what a 'fatal' heart attack could be like, even if the person describing it didn't actually die in the end - the steps their body went through may have been identical up to a point.
Avatar universal
Thanks Ireneo and Erijon

Thanks for your words.  Ireneo i'm sorry that you lost your father a year ago.  This is my first major lossand my father was the most important person in my life.  I'm not married and not in a relationship, so my mother thinks i'm probably more close to my dad than i would have been otherwise.  Obviously it's a different closeness, i just felt like he was my best friend.  We used to 'put the world to rights' and we were going to travel together the next day.  

I just thought i knew so much about heart attacks, i was trained in first aid - although not up to date obviously.......and this has shattered my illusions that i am in control.

I guess keep replaying the event in my mind is a way of coming to terms with it.

Dad bought a new mobile phone recently.  My mum wants me to have it.  now i loved that phone when he bought it but i also knew that he worked so hard and had very few things for himself and i can't bring myself to take the phone.  It's still in the charger at his house.  When we went on our trip he wanted to learn how to do video messaging.....

I suppose it's normal to feel like that.  We haven't done anything with his clothes or anything.  Mum still wants his slippers by his chair in the living room.

Thanks for listening
Avatar universal
Yes on the issue of my post being moved, I just had an email telling me it had been moved.  When i originally posted i don't remember being asked for payment - i would have paid.  I will look into it further tomorrow
Avatar universal
I think the other thing i don't understand is how they couldn't save him if they had all that medication they were putting into his system.  They worked on him for so long at the house before transporting him to hospital.

I'm curious why the survival rates are so low for cardiac arrests, especially if the heart is kept beating artifically.  What actually kills them?  Too much death of the heart muscle?  
159619 tn?1538184537
I can understand some of what you're going through and I am very sorry for your loss. I recently lost my very close 46 year old cousin whom I grew up with, we we're like brothers. He too died of a ruptured MI. I think he had the original MI a week earlier as he went to see a cardiologist out of the blue. I'm sure he felt something that worried him.

The next week he was in a race, he was the driver of a Super Truck class desert race team. He was racing between Las Vegas and Reno and had his fatal MI 260 miles out. His cardiologist said he was dead before his head hit the steering wheel. If I know my cousin Tony, he went out with a huge smile on his face, doing what he loved with his son by his side. At least that's how I want to think of it.

I think the pain comes from the suddenness of his death. On Wednesday we were joking about his race suit and he was dead on Thursday, I have always had a hard time coming to terms with that. Like I said, it was just a month ago and I have many questions as well, that's why I was attracted to your post. If you find any answers that help ease the pain, please share them with me.

159619 tn?1538184537
I just saw your last post after I posted. The way it was explained to me is that the heart muscle was damaged so badly by a previous MI that the dead muscle finally ruptured leaving a gaping hole in his heart. I was told this type of MI is almost always fatal. There is no way to replace the amount of blood being lost and now way to keep  a pressure high enough to get blood to the vital organs. This usually causes an immediate loss of consciousness that the victim will not ever recover from. That's what his cardiologist told me at the funeral, hope it helps you understand the mechanics involved.

88793 tn?1290230777
I'm so sorry for all of you lost your love one.  A cardiologist told me, only thing that the pacemaker unable to protect me is heart rupture.  

When the heart muscle is hardening (MI), there must be having a very tiny thin spot along the wall.  This is the spot will rupture later on.  It can prevent before it ruptures by a kind of medical glue or mesh (a website published).  Unfortunately, I haven't heard anyone come across in this forum to tell this procedure...........

I personally had a few faints during my palpitations.  I didn't know it was fatal or not but it was so lucky that I woke up by myself everytime.  Otherwise, you won't see me sitting here and post.  The last one was fainted at the hospital ward. My palpitations were lasted over 24 hours non-stop.  All medications used but still unable to convert.   I woke up in the morning (palp still going) and prepared to brush my teeth.  Few steps away from bed I felt very lightheaded, blurr vision, squashy head and the vision change colour to amber..... I told myself, stand still it'll go over.  Then my head suddenly very very cold.  Short of breath.  I couldn't control and collaped.  While I fall, my head hit on the leg of the steel bed.  It didn't hurt.  Perhaps it was a very comfortable pressure hit.  Didn't know how long it passed.  I woke up (my hand is still holding the toothbrush)!  My whole body was very very cold.  Still having the fade vision but able to climb back to my bed.  My head (hitting spot) started pain..... Covered with the blanket and slept until a big group of doctors and nurse came in.   That time I was only 16 years old.  I have wpw and now I'm still having wpw with a pacemaker (it is the number 4).  
Avatar universal
To Ed34

Sorry if i hastily judged you when you were just thinking out loud and didn't intend anything bad with your question above.  People are more sensitive on this forum than on other forums and i should have given you the benefit of the doubt......just a difficult time for me.  

No offence was really taken.  :-)
Avatar universal
Jon i'm so sorry to hear about your cousin Tony, but it sounds like he was a happy guy?  It does sound like he died doing what he loved.  Was his son ok?  I'm wondering because he was in a car when it happened?  I am really, really sorry to hear your story.  This whole experience has given me so much more compassion.

Regarding the rupture, my doctor told me that there was probably no tear or rupturing of the heart muscle - that the term 'rupture' is used because a fatty plaque comes away from the artery wall, it 'ruptures.'  When it does this there is a bleed inside the artery and a clot forms, it was the clot that killed my dad.  I can see that it's possible that a person could have an MI, and be left with a necrosis which then weakens and tears........i don't like the thought of that and i will have to check out whether that happened to dad.  He'd had 'indigestion' for two days so i guess it's possible......

That indigestion was fooling us all though.  Even the nurse on the medical helpline said it sounded like a stomach bug and not a heart problem.  How did i ever listen to her?  He had no pain in the chest or down the arms or anything, at least not until it was too late.  I'm wondering whether to complain though.  Not once did she say we should go to a doctor.  I feel she gave us a false sense of security.

I suppose the fact that i saw this happen to my dad means that i might have something to help you.  If i think what the best outcome of this would be, then his staring at the wall was the start of unconciousness.  The fact that he didn't answer me mean't that he was already confused or losing conciousness.  He didn't cry out in pain.  The whole thing lasted about 2-3 minutes before he was out.  I don't know for sure this was the case, but it's possible - just as possible as the alternative that i dread to think about.

Another thing that might help is what my doctor said to me.  Most people 'dissociate' from a cardiac arrest.  There's some research somewhere to say that the sense of 'self' is linked to the function of the heart so when the heart ceases to function the person feels that they are outside of their body, if they are concious at all.  They feel that things are happening to someone else and not them.  Interesting idea/theory.....

I will pray for you tonight, pray that we both can find some peace of mind with time.
Avatar universal
Hi thanks for telling your story.  I hope you are okay now with the treatment you are having.

The procedure you mention to prevent rupture, i wonder if that's where they put stents into the artery.  They hold the artery open I believe......but i don't know a lot about it.

When you passed out those times, you were not aware of much?  Were you afraid, or does it take you over completely?  

Thanks for listening to me and responding
159619 tn?1538184537
Thanks, that does help! FYI, his son was able to stop the truck and radio for help but he was dead before the medics arrived on scene.

Thanks again,

328381 tn?1269367702
I am sorry for your loss and you have probley had your question answered . heart attacks are sneaky sometimes i thought i had acid reflux or a chest cold coming just a pain right in the middle of my chest i took pepto and put vicks on my chest then 4 hrs later a bad heart attack and off to the hospital. myprayers are out for you in your loss i know what its like i still miss my mother who i lost 2 yrs ago.
Avatar universal
Thanks cblmn7

Hope you are ok now?  I can see how 'sneaky' heart attacks are - what i don't understand is why a trained nurse couldn't have warned me about that.  I could do so now, so why couldn't she?

Sorry to hear about your mother.  My prayers will include you and everyone here who's posted on my thread.  Thanks for responding.  :-)
88793 tn?1290230777
I have a pacemaker to prevent faint.  Other than faint, the pacemaker also can pace out of any unwanted rhythms.  

The procedure that I mentioned above is not a stent.  It is a mesh to wrap the heart.  I saw that website approx. year ago.  

I'm not quite understand your questions.  I was 16 years old that time.  No internet yet.  I wasn't frighten at all.  I knew it was the only way to convert my tachy.  I never thought about what happen if I can't wake up........ Anyway, I don't have to worry about if I can't wake up.  Now I'm worrying, if I wake up with broken arm or injured head or spinal cord.  Internet so much info now.   Take care.
Avatar universal

Thanks for your time!  It's good you have the pacemaker to prevent faints.  You have answered my question to a degree because my worry is that when my father lost conciousness, he didn't fully lose conciousness....and he knew what was going on around him and was afraid.  From what you and others say, when you lose conciousness you don't know what is happening at all.  Although your condition is very different from what was wrong with my father, it is comforting to know that when you passed out you are not aware of much.

That 'mesh' thing sounds really interesting, especially if it's to prevent ruptures...I will look out for news on that.

I hope i've made things a bit clearer.  Thanks for your post  :-)
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