Heart Attacks: Overview, Types, Symptoms, Causes And Risk Factors


A heart attack occurs when the heart’s blood flow is severely reduced or blocked. The blockage occurs due to fat buildup, cholesterol, and other substances in the heart arteries. The fatty, cholesterol-containing deposits are called plaques. The condition characterized by plaque accumulation is atherosclerosis. At times, the plaque can rupture the clot, and the lack of blood flow can damage that part of the heart muscle.

Lack of blood flow causes the tissue in the heart to die, thus damaging the heart. A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction. Regular health checkups are required to check heart health. Prompt treatment can prevent death thus, seek medical help if the situation arises. 

What Causes Heart Attack? Symptoms Of Heart Attacks

The symptoms of heart attack can vary significantly among individuals. The symptoms vary from mild to severe, and at times, there are no symptoms. Some of the common heart attacks are as follows:

  • Chest pain that feels like pressure, tightness, pain, or squeezing.
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Pain or uneasiness in the arm, back, jaw, teeth, shoulder, or upper belly.

Women often feel atypical symptoms like sharp or brief pain, felt in the neck, arm, or back. A heart attack typically begins with sudden cardiac arrest. In most cases, heart attacks strike suddenly. However, some people experience warning signs and symptoms hours, days, or weeks in advance. Chest pain or pressure that occurs and does not fade away. Angina occurs due to a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.   

Causes Of Heart Attack

Causes Of Heart Attack

Coronary artery disease causes most of the heart attacks. Coronary artery disease is a condition where one or more heart arteries are blocked. It happens as the cholesterol-containing deposits are called plaque deposits. Plaques narrow the arteries and the blood flow to the heart is reduced. If the plaque breaks open, it results in blood clots in the heart.

A heart attack occurs due to complete or partial blockage of a heart artery. One of the methods to detect heart attack is with the help of an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). If the reports show some specific changes (ST elevation) that call for emergency invasive treatment. The medical expert uses ECG results to describe the type of heart attack.

Types Of Heart Attacks Are As Follows:

  • A complete blockage of a medium or large heart artery means having an ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI).
  • A partial blockage implies that non-ST elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI) has a total blockage.

Some heart attacks are not caused by blocked arteries. Some other reasons could cause heart attacks. Some of these causes are as follows:

  • Coronary artery spasm– here, there is a severed blood vessel that is squeezing, but it is not blocked. The artery has cholesterol plaques, or there is the artery has hardened due to smoking or other risk factors. It is also known as Prinzmetal’s angina, vasospastic angina, or variant angina.
  • Infections– some infections like COVID-19 and other viral infections could damage the heart tissues resulting in heart attacks.
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD)– is a life-threatening situation resulting due to a tear in the heart artery.   

What Are The Heart Attack Risk Factors?

  • Age– men above the age of 45 and women above the age of 55 are more likely to have heart attacks.
  • Obesity– studies prove that obesity and heart attack are closely related. Diabetes, high levels of triglycerides, low levels of good cholesterol, and bad cholesterol are some of the major causes resulting in heart attacks.
  • Diabetes– Diabetes is a situation when the body does not produce insulin or use it correctly. High blood sugar increases the risk of heart attack.
  • Tobacco Use- consuming tobacco, or smoking and even exposure to second-hand smoke could cause heart attack.
  • High Blood Pressure– due to high blood pressure in the long run, the arteries get damaged. High blood pressure, along with obesity, high cholesterol, or diabetes, increases the risk of high blood pressure.
  • High Cholesterol Or Triglycerides– a high level of low-density lipoprotein  (LDL) cholesterol or bad cholesterol is one of the reasons that causes the arteries to narrow down. A high level of certain blood fats called triglycerides result in heart attack. The risk of heart attack could decrease if the high-density lipoprotein  (HDL) good cholesterol is in the standard range.
  • Metabolic Syndrome– three things like enlarged waist or central obesity, high blood pressure, low good cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high blood sugar, is called metabolic syndrome. Having metabolic syndrome increases the chances of having a heart attack.
  • Family History Of Heart Attack– if the family has a history of heart attack then the chances of having heart disease increase. If a family member like a brother, sister, grandparent, or parent had an early heart attack then the chances of a heart attack increase.
  • History Of Preeclampsia– high blood pressure during pregnancy increases a lifetime risk of heart attack. 
  • Sedentary Lifestyle– leading a sedentary lifestyle or lack of physical activities is the leading cause of heart attack. Regular exercise improves heart health. 
  • Unhealthy Food Habits– consuming fatty, processed foods, food high in salt content or trans fats, or animal diet increases the risk of heart attacks. Consuming fruits, and leafy vegetables, and drinking plenty of water minimizes the risk of a heart attack. 
  • Stress– emotional stress and anger can increase the risk of heart attack.
  • Illegal Drug Use– cocaine and amphetamines are stimulants that increase the risk of heart attack. The drugs can trigger coronary artery spasms and result in heart attack.
  • Autoimmune Disease– health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase the risk of heart attack.
Types Of Heart Attacks

Sum Up

A heart attack results due to heart damage. In the last few years cases of heart attack have increased. The causes mentioned above have resulted in the loss of several lives. Even young people in the range of 25 to 25 years died due to heart attacks. Thus, having regular checks and leading a healthy life is crucial for having a healthy heart.  


  1. Heart attack. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack/causes. Accessed March 29, 2022.
  2. Centers for Disease Control. Heart attack symptoms, risk, and recovery (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm). Accessed 10/30/2022.
  3. U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is a Heart Attack? (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart-attack) Accessed 10/30/2022

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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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