Heart attack is a very serious symptom of coronary heart disease. It strikes about 1.2 million Americans yearly and kills approximately 40 percent of them. Unfortunately, in some cases, a heart attack is the first sign that something is wrong in the body.
A heart attack can occur as a result of atherosclerosis (a build-up of plaque in the arteries). A simple plaque can grow into a complicated one when calcium accumulates and hardens the plaque and when blood clots develop. If the top of the fibrous plaque tears or ruptures, heavy bleeding occurs. This causes a local blood clot called a thrombus, which can obstruct the artery and cause a heart attack (also called coronary thrombosis). During a heart attack, the blood supply is cut off from a portion of the heart muscle, and that area of the heart dies. If enough of the heart is affected, or if the heart begins to beat rapidly and uncontrollably (called arrhythmia), the victim can die.
To learn more about coronary heart disease, see:
- Risk Factors of Coronary Heart Disease: High cholesterol isn't the only risk factor of coronary heart disease. Learn how weight, blood pressure, some medical conditions, and lifestyle choices impact the risk.
- Diagnosing Coronary Heart Disease: Doctors take several factors into account to diagnose coronary heart disease. Learn what tests are used, and how to interpret the results.
- Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease in Women: The symptoms of coronary heart disease in women -- especially younger women -- can be different than for their male counterparts. Learn the symptoms to look out for.
- Coronary Heart Disease: Coronary heart disease is a serious condition that affects millions of people each year. Find out what coronary heart disease is and what you can do to lower your risk.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Neil Stone is a professor of clinical medicine in cardiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University and a practicing internist-cardiologist-lipidologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He also serves as the Medical Director of the Vascular Center for the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. Dr. Stone was a member of the first and third National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panels and a past chairman of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and Clinical Affairs Committee.