Heart Attack

Scripps cardiothoracic surgeon Scot Brewster, MD, and colleagues review a heart attack patient's imaging results.

Dr. Scot Brewster, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Scripps

About every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. Without immediate expert treatment, a heart attack can be fatal. Our cardiovascular teams have decades of highly specialized experience in helping patients treat and manage serious heart problems.


Scripps' heart care program is consistently recognized as one of the best cardiology and heart surgery programs in San Diego and the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

About heart attack

A heart attack happens when the flow of blood that carries oxygen to the heart is reduced or completely stopped. Usually, blood flow is disrupted because fat, cholesterol and other substances build up in the arteries that bring blood to the heart. This buildup, called plaque, eventually becomes so thick that blood can no longer flow freely through the arteries. Sometimes, plaque will break off and a blood clot will form around it, which also narrows the artery. This narrowing of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis.


A condition called ischemia occurs when the heart does not get enough oxygen and nutrients. Ischemia can cause a heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI). In some cases, a heart attack can be caused by a spasm of a coronary artery that restricts blood flow to the heart, but this is not common. 


A heart attack is not the same as cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system and is not related to a blocked blood flow.


Continue reading to learn more about heart attack.

Treatments for heart attack

Scripps provides 24-hour care for heart attack patients by board-certified cardiologists and heart surgeons. Our multidisciplinary heart teams may also include an electrophysiologist physician, cardiology nurses, social workers and several other specially trained clinicians and practitioners.


If our diagnostic tests confirm that you have had a heart attack, we’ll determine the best methods to quickly restore blood flow to your heart to minimize damage. Your treatment plan may include medication and/or surgical procedures.

Interventional cardiology

Scripps cardiology teams have extensive experience with new minimally invasive techniques to treat heart attack. Our interventional cardiology specialists treat heart attack and other conditions through the insertion of a thin flexible tube into arteries of the leg or wrist. A tiny wire is passed through the catheter to access the heart and arteries to remove plaque and fatty deposits, repair defects or insert devices to keep arteries open.


Our cardiac catheterization experts offer a range of heart attack procedures and treatments, including:


  • Angioplasty and stent placement for the heart (also known as percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI) to open narrowed or blocked arteries with stents (tiny tubular support devices) to restore healthy blood flow to the heart
  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting (also known as CAS) to open narrowed or blocked carotid arteries in the neck with stents
  • Rotational atherectomy to remove calcified lesions from arteries using a miniature device called a Rotablator
  • Percutaneous balloon valvuloplasty to open a narrowed or blocked heart valve using with the insertion and placement of a miniature balloon

Research and clinical trials

Scripps is consistently on the leading edge of cardiovascular research and clinical trials, working to bring the most innovative treatments and care options to patients. Locally and regionally, we’ve led the way with many firsts for cardiovascular breakthroughs.


Our physicians and scientists are actively involved in research and studies to provide greater understanding of heart disease and enable faster availability of new treatments to patients. If you are interested in participating in clinical trials, please discuss options and possible matches with your physician.