By: on In Highlights

What causes heart attacks?

There are many factors that go into determining heart health. There is no one thing that will guarantee you’ll have a heart attack, nor is there any one thing that can guarantee you won’t. For a long time, it was believed that genetics were responsible for heart disease. Now, however, it is believed that lifestyle is at least as important as genetics in determining risk for heart disease.

The majority of heart attacks are cause by coronary heart disease. In a healthy heart, the coronary arteries are unobstructed and blood is pushed to and from the heart. This process is essential for the body, and disruption of this process often proves lethal. When plaque builds up in the arteries, blood flow to the heart is restricted. This is known as atherosclerosis. Plaque lining the arterial wall can be dislodged, or rupture, causing a blot clot to form. When a clot forms within an artery, it can block the artery sufficiently to prevent the heart from receiving blood. When the heart is deprived of blood, the tissue begins to die. If the obstruction is left untreated, the portion of the heart supplied by the blocked artery will die and be replaced with scar tissue.

A less common cause of heart attacks is a coronary artery spasm. While this is rare, it is all the more dangerous due to the fact that it is difficult to predict. It is not always clear what causes the artery to spasm; therefore it is difficult to take preventative measures. It is thought that stress, either physical or emotional, can cause an artery to spasm. Drug use and smoking have also been found to increase the odds of a coronary artery spasm. When the artery spasms, blood flow to the heart is cut off. Unlike coronary heart disease, however, coronary artery spasms can occur even in healthy arteries free of plaque buildup or blockages.

While coronary heart disease is usually the cause of a heart attack, it is important to look at what causes coronary heart disease. One of the most crucial factors in maintaining heart health is cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is useful in moderation, but eating high cholesterol foods can result in an excess of cholesterol in the blood. When this happens, plaque begins to form within the arteries. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of heart disease, as does alcohol consumption. High blood pressure is often associated with heart disease. High blood pressure generally does not display any symptoms, so people rarely know they have it. Regular physical activity and a healthy diet have been found to substantially reduce your risk for heart disease. On the other hand, leading a sedentary lifestyle has been found to do just the opposite and is listed as one of the primary causes of heart attacks.

Aside from lifestyle choices, there are some factors we have no control over. Age plays a major role in the likelihood of having a heart attack. Once you reach a certain age, you are more likely to have a heart attack. Anyone with a family history of heart disease is also at an increased risk for heart attack. You can offset your increased risk by living a heart healthy lifestyle.