What Causes a Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when one or more of the arteries supplying your heart with oxygen-rich blood (coronary arteries) become blocked. Over time, a coronary artery can narrow from the inside due to a buildup of a fatty substance call plaque. This condition is called coronary artery disease (CAD), the major underlying cause of heart attacks.

Blocked ArteryEventually, a plaque site can rupture. The body responds by sending platelets, forming a blood clot at the rupture site. If the clot becomes large enough, it can impede or even block the flow of blood through the artery. Heart muscle that is downstream from the clot can begin to die and form scar tissue due to the lack of blood flow.

When not fatal, heart attacks can damage the heart and result in a number of maladies such as life-threatening arrhythmias or conjestive heart failure, where the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body. Prompt treatment not only saves lives, but also improves quality-of-life by limiting the cardiac damage caused by heart attacks.