Heart Attack Causes and Risk Factors

Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, is a disorder of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells die. Each year, about 1.5 million people in the United States had a heart attack, and nearly half of them died, making it remains a leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

Heart attacks commonly occur as a result of coronary artery disease (CAD). Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs due to the buildup of cholesterol and other substances in the arterial wall, which affects blood flow to the heart muscle. Without an adequate blood supply, heart muscle tissue can be damaged.

heart attack causes and risk factors

Deposits of cholesterol and other fat substances can build up the inner lining of blood vessels and become coated with scar tissue, forming a cholesterol rich bump in the blood vessel wall called plaque. Plaque buildup narrows and hardens the blood vessels, a process called atherosclerosis, or hardening of blood vessels.

Eventually these plaque deposits can significantly reduce or block blood flow to the heart. A heart attack occurs if the blood clot becomes large enough to cut most or all blood flow through arteries.

Heart attacks can also occur due to the buildup of plaque in small arteries or damage to the arterial wall. This condition is called Microvascular disease. It is believed to be more common in women than in men. Approximately 3 million women with heart disease in the United States are affected by Microvascular disease.

Other less common causes of heart attack is severe spasm of the coronary artery that cuts off blood flow through arteries. These spasms can either restrict or block blood flow to the heart. It’s not always clear what causes coronary artery spasm, however sometimes it can be triggered by cold, stress, withdrawal of alcohol, smoking, and taking certain drugs such as cocaine.

Risk Factors for Heart Attack

Risk factors for heart attack can be divided into two major groups. There are controllable and uncontrollable risk factors.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

Uncontrollable risk factors are risk factors that we can not do anything. These include:

  • Age: Older people are more likely to have heart attack. In fact, more than 83% of people who die from heart attack are 65 years old or older.
  • Gender: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, women’s death rates from heart attack increased, it is not great as men.
  • Family history: Those who have family member with heart disease are more likely to have heart attack in earlier life.
  • Race: the risk of heart disease is higher among African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and some Asian Americans compared to Caucasians.

Controllable Risk Factors

Controllable risk factors are risk factors under our control. Although you can not do much about your age, gender, or race, you can greatly reduce the risk of heart attack by paying more attention to following risk factors:

  • High cholesterol: if a person’s blood cholesterol level are high, particularly bad cholesterol. He/ she have a higher risk of developing blood clots in the arteries. Blood clots can block blood supply to the heart muscle, causing heart attacks.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to thicken and become stiff. The higher your blood pressure, the greater the risk of have heart attack.
  • Diabetes: The increased levels of blood sugar associated with diabetes can damage the coronary arteries, making them more susceptible to heart attack. It is estimated that people with diabetes are 2-5 times more likely to develop Coronary Heart Disease than the normal people.
  • Overweight: Being overweight or obese does not directly increase the risk of heart attack, but leads to the related risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Diet: If you eat a diet that is high in saturated fat, your cholesterol levels will increase. This causes an increased risk of heart attack.
  • Smoking: Toxins contained in cigarettes can narrow and damage the coronary artery. This makes people who smoke are more vulnerable to heart disease. Compared with non-smokers, people who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day are 60-90 percent more likely to experience heart attacks.

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