Grandfather and grandkids playing with a kite indicating that heart attack can happen anytime, know the risks.

Heart attack: What it is and why does it happen?

January 22, 2018 | BY BIOTRICITY

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. Over the course of a year, approximately 790,000 Americans have a heart attack, and of these cases 580,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 are subsequent events. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack, and the most common type of heart disease. The disease manifests when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed, which can subsequently cause heart attacks, chest pains, or strokes.

So, what is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This is a serious medical emergency because your heart needs oxygen to survive, and you need your heart to survive. The process leading up to a heart attack goes like this:

Fast Facts: Heart Attacks

  • The coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood slowly become blocked from buildups of fat, cholesterol, or other substances that together are called plaque.
  • The slow process of plaque buildup is called atherosclerosis.
  • When little pieces of plaque break off, blood clots that can block the blood flow through the heart muscle form.
  • The heart muscle then becomes deprived of oxygen and nutrients, which is called ischemia.
  • Ischemia can result in permanent damage or even death of part of the heart muscle.
  • When ischemia results in permanent damage to the heart muscle, this is called a heart attack, known medically as a myocardial infarction.

What are heart attack risk factors?

Heart attack risk factors are made up of the usual culprits: unhealthy diet, inactivity, smoking, and stress. There are, however, some risk factors that you can’t change. These are:

  • Age: The risk of having a heart attack increases when a man is 45 and a woman is over 55.
  • Sex: Men are at greater risk for heart attack than women. They tend to have attacks earlier in life. Women who enter menopause early may be at greater risk for heart disease and premature death.
  • Heredity: Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. There are also racial differences to account for heart attack risk factors. For instance, African Americans have more instances of high blood pressure than Caucasians and that puts them at greater risk of heart disease.

Prevention of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease can never start too early. It is important to know all of your risk factors so that you can work closely with your doctor to address them and work towards prevention.

Recovery & Prevention

If you have had a heart attack and are now in the recovery stage the goal is to restore physical activity through exercise and reduce the risk of another heart attack through lifestyle change. This generally includes changing your diet to focus on heart healthy foods, exercising, and developing coping mechanisms to help you shoulder the emotional stress that a heart attack can cause.

When it comes to maintaining the health of your heart, lifestyle choices play a significant role. Maintaining a healthy weight through smart eating and staying active are all proven to lower the risk of heart disease and heart attack. If you are over 50 and/or have a family history of heart attack, monitoring your blood pressure is a great preventative tactic. If you notice anything untoward, contact your healthcare provider. Plaque buildup around arteries can be detected through this kind of routine health monitoring and intervention can prevent a potential heart attack.