Heart Attack


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What is a heart attack? [Index]

Coronary attacks (commonly called heart attacks) result from coronary heart disease (C.H.D.) - blood vessel disease in the heart.  Coronary artery disease (C.A.D.) and ischemic heart disease are other names for coronary heart disease.

What causes a heart attack? [Index]

The medical term for heart attack is myocardial infarction.  A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle itself - the myocardium - is severely reduced or stopped.  This occurs when one of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle is blocked.  The blockage is usually from the buildup of plaque (deposits of fat-like substances) due to atherosclerosis.  The plaque can eventually tear or rupture, triggering a blood clot to form that blocks the artery and leads to a heart attack.  Such an event is sometimes called a coronary thrombosis or coronary occlusion.

If the blood supply is cut off severely or for a long time, muscle cells suffer irreversible injury and die.  Disability or death can result, depending on how much heart muscle is damaged.

Sometimes a coronary artery temporarily contracts or goes into spasm.   When this happens the artery narrows and blood flow to part of the heart muscle decreases or stops.  What causes a spasm is unclear.  But spasm can occur in normal-appearing blood vessels as well as vessels partly blocked by atherosclerosis.   If a spasm is severe, a heart attack may result.

Most common or "classic" warning signals of a heart attack [Index]

Less common warning signs of heart attack [Index]

How do I know if a heart attack has occurred? [Index]

A physician who's studied the results of several tests must make the actual diagnosis of a heart attack.  The doctor will

Blood tests confirm (or refute) suspicions raised in the early stages of evaluation that may occur in an emergency room, intensive care unit or urgent care unit or urgent care setting.  These tests are sometimes called heart damage markers or cardiac enzymes.

Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease [Index]

Extensive clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack.  Major risk factors are those that medical research has shown significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.  Contributing risk factors are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but their significance and prevalence haven't yet been precisely determined.

The American Heart Association has identified several risk factors for coronary heart disease.  Some of them can be modified, treated or controlled, and some can't.  The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that he or she will develop heart disease.  Also the greater the level of each risk factor, the greater the risk.  For example, a person with a total cholesterol of 300 mg/dL has a greater risk than someone with a total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL, even though all people with a total cholesterol greater than 240 are considered high-risk.

What are the major risk factors for coronary heart disease?

You can modify, treat or control most risk factors to lower your risk, by focusing on your lifestyle habits or, if needed, taking medicine.

What other factors contribute to heart disease risk?

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Material taken from the American Heart Association.