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Heart Attack

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) happens when one or more areas of the heart don't get enough oxygen due to blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle.

The blockage is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis). Plaque is made up of deposits, cholesterol, and other substances. When a plaque breaks (ruptures), a blood clot quickly forms. The blood clot is the actual cause of the heart attack.

Heart image
If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off, muscle cells of the heart begin to suffer damage and start to die. Irreversible damage begins within 30 minutes of blockage. The result is heart muscle affected by the lack of oxygen no longer works as it should.

What are the risk factors for a heart attack?

There are two types of risk factors for a heart attack, inherited and acquired.

Inherited (genetic) Factors: Who is most at risk?
  • People with inherited high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • People with inherited low levels of HDL cholesterol, high levels of LDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • People with a family history of heart disease. This is especially true if the heart disease started before age 55
  • Older men and women
  • People with type 1 diabetes
  • Women who have gone through menopause. Generally, men are at risk at a younger age than women. After menopause, women are equally at risk.

Acquired Risk Factors: Who is most at risk?
  • People with acquired high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • People with acquired low levels of HDL cholesterol, high levels of LDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • Cigarette smokers
  • People who are under a lot of stress
  • People who drink too much alcohol
  • People who lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • People overweight by 30% or more
  • People who eat a diet high in saturated fat
  • People with type 2 diabetes