A heart attack results from a blockage in one or both coronary arteries, which move oxygen and blood to the heart. The heart cannot survive without the oxygen that travels within the blood, so a blockage will cause the sudden death of heart cells.
Usually, the blockage develops slowly and steadily over time. Plaque, made from cholesterol and other cells, thickens within the coronary artery walls. If the blood cannot flow through this blockage, you will experience a heart attack. Sometimes, the plaque in the arteries will tear and stick to blood platelets, forming a clot. A heart attack will occur if the clot prevents the blood from flowing.
You might experience a heart attack during moments of overwhelming stress or when you are physically exerting yourself while exercising. An illness such as pneumonia can also cause a heart attack. Many people experience heart attacks in the morning, suggesting that one possible cause involves the rhythm of platelets.
Both men and women can develop a heart attack. While men tend to experience more obvious symptoms, women will suffer from silent heart attacks without any symptoms at all. Most men become at risk in their mid-40s, and most women become at risk in their mid-50s. A family history of heart attacks and coronary artery disease can provide some indication of whether you are at risk. Individuals with a mother, father, brother, or sister who have suffered heart attacks are at risk.
Diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are conditions that can trigger a heart attack. As a result, it is important that patients monitor these conditions and start treatment promptly, if necessary.
Diet and lifestyle can also put you at risk for a heart attack. Tobacco smokers and alcohol drinkers can put themselves at risk for a heart attack. People who do not exercise and live a sedentary lifestyle may develop a heart attack if they are considered overweight.
Stressful environments can also trigger a heart attack, especially with people who are otherwise at risk. Men tend to be at higher risk than women, and women who use oral contraceptive pills are at risk when other risk factors are present such as smoking, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
The presence of C-reactive protein (CRP) may provide some indication of whether you are at risk for heart attacks or strokes.