What Causes a Heart Attack?

A heart attack happens when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked or severely restricted. If the blood flow is cut off for more than a few minutes, the muscle cells begin to die from lack of oxygen. Heart attack has a number of causes.

Coronary artery disease

The most common underlying cause of heart attack is atherosclerosis, a condition in which a fatty substance called plaque builds up on the inside walls of blood vessels. When this occurs in the coronary arteries, it's known as coronary artery disease (CAD).

Over time, the buildup of plaque can narrow or completely block the coronary arteries, restricting or preventing blood flow to the heart. Or the plaque can actually rupture, allowing a blood clot to form. If the clot becomes large enough, it can reduce or block the flow of blood to the heart.

Coronary microvascular disease

Coronary microvascular disease (MVD) affects the heart's smallest arteries rather than the large coronary arteries. Coronary MVD can be caused by plaque building up in the tiny arteries, spasms in the arteries themselves, or damage to the walls of the arteries.

Coronary MVD is thought to be more common in women than in men, and it's also believed to be one of the reasons heart disease is sometimes overlooked in women. That's because standard tests used to diagnose heart disease look for blockages in the coronary arteries, not plaque or spasms in the heart's microvasculature.

Coronary MVD is estimated to affect up to 3 million women with heart disease in the United States.

Coronary artery spasm

A less common cause of heart attack is a severe spasm (or contraction) of the muscles in the wall of one of the coronary arteries. The spasm can either restrict or block blood flow to the heart. Although the cause of such spasms isn't always clear, they can be triggered by emotional stress, exposure to cold, alcohol withdrawal, cigarette smoking, or cocaine use.


Stephanie Trelogan

Stephanie Trelogan writes about heart disease, stroke, and depression issues that concern people caring for their aging parents. See full bio

over 5 years, said...

i lost my daughter sept last year 2011 just been a year now she was 23 years old and had heart attack sitting on her bed as i am now. i want to cry so badly but i cant allow myself to. for i feel if i do then want help as her son who i adopted when he was 2, got if im a mess, hes 6 and knew she was his real mum and always will. what annoyes me is because she had a live in partner of 4 years, he as so did her when she talked of death said, if i die before u mum please can it be you that arranges my funeral just never would have thought my child would go before me. but so be i did it, was a lovely funeral her uncle did the service it so nice then it or got spoilt. see i no we all grieve in difficent ways but her partner met a new lady 2 weeks after my daughter death and decided not to help me with the cost with the undertakers even though he knew i had no money myself.. i couldnt get help or anythink from the state as the only person who could claim was her partner. he was no where to be seen i was left with a bill of £2985.00 i appealed for help, tried everythink. in the end i borrowed the money and will be paying it back over 3 years which i cant really afford but for my daughter and son i will . now since then its got harder cause now i want as so do her son/my son a headstone for her like the rest of the people in the ground he says, he picked a lovely one, 3 hearts with a rainbow to side for her. each of the hearts he says one is for him and other for me, so sweet. but again i can get no help. ive even done a fund raising day but not much of turn out with the weather we had few months back. so now i sit here and ask why is it in life there so many bad eggs as in rotten people that walk this earth, that its always the good ones that go first.please.one day i hope i win eough money on the lotto to pay for a headstone and the loan money cause as it is now there been no spare cash for my son . to be treated in some way. excuse any writing mistakes ive never been good at it

over 5 years, said...

i'm Debra 60yrs and have been suffering on & off probably 3 yrs now spasms which start in the chest area & progress more so my right side & through to my back i find it very hard to get comfortable finding a position to get rid of it i could suffer up to 2 or three of these spasms & last up to 1/2 an hour is it due to lack of fluids or my heart? i saw the doctor & was watched 1/2 hr & let to go home?

over 6 years, said...

This is really a good article. Its encouraging indeed as we may try our level best to avoid avoidable heart attack causes. Thank you M.

over 8 years, said...

In the cases of heart attack and cardiac arrest, or any other heart shocks, time sets to be the most crucial factor for the survival of the patient. Sometimes, a little knowledge regarding the immediate actions to be taken may help your near and dear ones to survive in such incidents. The response a person takes to treat a victim decides the probability of his/her survival. Its been my personal experience fighting to survive against a heart attack. A quick reorganization of your bodily responses may increase your chances of survival. Because of having many heart problems, I was enrolled in a concierge Healthcare program from elite health. I was attacked by a severe heart attack in a party, luckily surrounded by many people. Some of the sudden changes in my body was recognized by me and anticipated immediately. I got a very severe chest pain which was almost unbearable for more than a minute. I got the suspicion that I might be having heart attack, and immediately called my physician on the phone, and explained my condition and its severity. Because of the immediate guidance, I was directed immediately to have an aspirin which I used to carry with me as prescribed by my physician. It was quite a frightening experience for me to face such a heart attack, but somehow I managed to be calm until 911 arrived. I was immediately taken to the nearest hospital, where already my physician were present and have got everything setup according to my medical history. And it was in some matter of seconds that everything was in control. A doctor, who already have the complete knowledge of the medical history and fitness of the person, extra ordinarily ameliorate your recovery process. Hence such a concierge level program from Elite health, helped me a save my life, like many others.