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What Causes Heart Attacks?

written by: Harry Sylvester • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/11/2010

Heart attack is a life-threatening disease resulting from the accumulation of fatty materials in the coronary arteries. Find out what causes heart attacks along with risk factors that might contribute to the disease.

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    Heart Attack Overview

    Coronary artery disease (CAD) results in heart attacks for most men and women. CAD develops when cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other harmful substances accumulate in the coronary arteries providing the heart muscle (myocardium) with oxygen-rich blood and other nutrients to pump blood. Fatty materials, known as plaque, might narrow the arteries, preventing the heart from obtaining blood. The heart would be deprived of oxygen to function well. Plaque can also clog, restrict blood flow, and eventually lead to a heart attack. In addition, a heart attack may cause the heart muscle to start to die and scar tissue supersedes it if the obstruction is not properly treated. Known as cardiac infarction, myocardial infarction, or coronary thrombosis, a heart attack is a life-threatening disease. It is characterized by pain in the chest, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath (dyspnea), sweating, and jaw ache.

    Researchers have found what causes heart attacks and risk factors that may contribute to this disease, including:

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    High LDL Cholesterol or Triglyceride Levels

    A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (a type of fat) can restrict blood flow in the arteries throughout your body. Consuming foods that contain saturated fats, trans-fats and cholesterol can cause a high level of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Nevertheless, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (good cholesterol) helps clean the body from bad cholesterol.

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    Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

    Hypertension or high blood pressure is a disorder in which blood pressure in the arteries is significantly elevated. The primary causes of hypertension are high salt intake, obesity, genetics, stress, and lack of physical activity. Aging can develop the risk of hypertension gradually.

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    Angina

    Angina is an uncomfortable and painful sensation in the chest occurring when an area of the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This condition might increase the risk of a heart attack. Sometimes people mistake angina for a heart attack because they both involve pain in the chest. If a painful feeling occurs in the chest, you are better off consulting your doctor to undergo further diagnosis.

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    Genetics

    You might inherit the risk of this disease if your grandparents and parents once suffered from it. Family history of heart attack can increase blood cholesterol levels.

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    Overweight or Obesity

    Researchers have calculated waist measurements, mentioning that men whose waist circumference of more than 34 inches and women whose waist circumference of more than 32 inches increase their risks of having the disease. In addition, body mass index (BMI) can be a reliable indicator of body fatness based on height and weight for adult men and women. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obesity.

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    Diabetes

    Diabetes is a disorder in which the amount of glucose in the blood is elevated, as the body cannot use it well. Diabetes might occur and increase the risk of heart attack. However, food pyramid for diabetics can surely help diabetics consume a healthful diet.

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    Age

    If a man is 45 or older and a woman is 55 or older, they both are prone to develop a heart attack compared with young people.

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    Physical Inactivity and Smoking

    Regular exercise is very useful to your health. If you are reluctant to exercise, it means you are at greater risk of having the disease. Smoking can harm the interior wall of arteries.

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    References

    The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What Causes A Heart Disease - http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_Causes.html

    MayoClinic.com: Causes of Heart Attack - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094/DSECTION=causes

    Medicalnewstoday.com: What is A Heart Attack? What Causes A Heart Attack? - http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/151444.php