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Causes of heart attack: What is the reason behind the fatal ailment?


Heart attack is one of the most known, common and fatal health concerns. Presently, it affects millions of people all over the world. This ailment also has a great mortality rate. Despite its high incidence, awareness and information about the fundamentals of this disease are lagging. In order to seek timely treatment and management, it is important to know about the symptoms and causes of heart attack. 

In this article, with insights from our cardiologists, we will explore the most common reasons for heart attack. But before we dwell on the reasons, let us first study what this condition is all about?

Heart attack: What is it?

Heart attack is also known as myocardial infarction. It is a serious medical emergency that occurs when the blood flow to the heart gets blocked. 

warning signs of heart attack

There is usually a formation of blood clots due to this blockage leading to complete disruption of blood supply. The blockage can not only disrupt the blood flow but also damage or destroy the organ due to an inadequate supply of oxygen. 

A heart attack is characterised by a pressure, tightness, squeezing sensation or pain in the chest or arms, pain that radiates to the neck, jaw or back, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, cold sweating, fatigue, and sudden dizziness. 

Cardiovascular diseases are highly common all across the globe. It is responsible for the deatlh of close to 17.9 million people worldwide. Out of these stark figures, 85% of the deaths are attributed to heart attack. 

Heart attack Causes

Primarily, the reason for heart attack is the formation of plague caused by a build-up of fat, cholesterol and various other substances. The said plague forms in the arteries of the heart which is responsible for supplying oxygen-rich blood to the heart and causes the arteries to narrow. 

Heart attack usually occurs as an effect of overtime damage to the organ. Overtime, due to sedentary lifestyle and other factors, one or more of the coronary arteries of the heart can get blocked due to the accumulation of fatty deposits (including cholesterol). This build-up leads to the development of a condition known as coronary artery disease which causes heart attack. 

  • When a person has a heart attack, the plague (formed by deposition of fatty substances) ruptures and lets the flow of cholesterol into the bloodstream. This can cause blood clotting to form at the site of rupture.
  • Blood clot in one or more of the coronary arteries can completely restrict the flow of blood in the heart, making it deficient in oxygen and other nutrients. 
  • Depending on the size of the blood clot, there are two types of heart blockages that can occur – complete and partial blockage. 
  • A complete blockage can cause an ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). STEMI is a serious medical emergency and has higher levels of risk of complications. 
  • A partial blockage, on the other hand, can lead to a non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). NSTEMI is a comparatively less serious situation and is considered an acute coronary syndrome spectrum. 
  • One of the other common causes of heart attack is the spasm of one or more of the coronary arteries. A spasm is defined as a constriction or tightening of a coronary artery that occurs temporarily. This spasm occurs in the muscular wall of the coronary artery. 

Risk factors of heart attack 

Heart attack is one such medically critical situation that can occur in anyone irrespective of their age or gender. However, some individuals or groups are at a greater risk of developing a complete or partial heart attack.

A range of factors – biological, lifestyle and others – can increase your chances of getting a heart attack some time. Common risk factors of heart attack are:

  • Age – As you grow old, your chances of developing heart attack increase. 
  • Tobacco consumption – Smoking or consumption of tobacco in any other form including intake of secondhand smoke can increase your chances of heart attack. 
  • High blood pressure – High blood pressure or hypertension is a condition in which the pressure of flow of blood against the wall of the coronary artery is too high. Hypertension can cause long-term damage to the arteries.
  • High cholesterol – High cholesterol or high triglyceride levels (fat deposits) can cause the narrowing of coronary arteries and thus increase your risk of heart attack. 
  • Diabetes – Diabetes is a condition characterised by high levels of sugar in your blood due to insulin resistance. Diabetes is known to increase your risk of heart attack. 
  • Obesity – The above-mentioned health concerns – high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – are linked to obesity which can further increase your likelihood of getting a heart attack. 
  • Family history of heart attack – An individual’s risk of heart attack increases significantly if your siblings, grandparents, or parents have had a medical emergency. 
  • Inadequate physical movement – A sedentary lifestyle including lack of physical activity increases your chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol levels. These concerns, further, increase your risk of heart attack. 
  • Stress – High levels of stress are known to be linked with greater chances of heart attack. 
  • Autoimmune conditions – An autoimmune condition is the one in which your immune system (which is meant to protect you against external substances) mistakenly attacks your own healthy cells. 

Complications of heart attack 

Heart attack, whether complete or partial, is a serious medical emergency. An episode of heart attack requires urgent and immediate critical care intervention. If not heeded timely, heart attack can lead to the following complications:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Heart failure 
  • Sudden cardiac arrest 

Points to note:

  • If you suspect that somebody is having a heart attack, you should immediately call 112 or your local emergency contact. 
  • If the person loses consciousness, you should start hands-only CPR 
  • Learn more about coping with a medical emergency by studying heart attack first aid here. 

For more information on intensive care for heart attacks, you can speak to our healthcare providers. Book an appointment today. 

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