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Heart disease Overview > conditions and diseases >

Heart attack 101

Heart attack 101

By Rachel Martin

Find what you need to know about heart attack symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and prevention.

Save your heart: By educating yourself about heart attack risk factors and symptoms, you can take immediate steps to prevent one. Here’s what you need to know.

What Causes a Heart Attack?
Heart attack: Also called myocardial infarction, a heart attack occurs when blood stops flowing to a section of the heart, depriving the heart of oxygen and causing the heart muscle to die. It is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Primary cause: Blood clots or blocked arteries due to coronary artery disease.

How arteries get blocked: The coronary arteries supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood. Over time, the arteries can become lined with plaque because of:

  • poor diet
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • hereditary factors

Rarely, a heart attack can be caused by microvascular disease, or problems with blood flow in the many small arteries that surround the heart. Sometimes, a heart attack is caused by an artery spasm.

The role of plaque: Arterial plaque can become so thick that it severely restricts blood flow to the heart. Plaque can also rupture, triggering the formation of a blood clot that can block blood flow.

The result: If blood flow to the heart doesn’t resume quickly, severe heart damage or death can result.

Continued on Page 2: Risk Factors
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