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What Are The Most Common Heart Attack Causes

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Updated On
Written By Gina Walters
A man holding chest, encountering heart attack

A heart attack, also known as a Myocardial Infarction, is a medical emergency due to a shortage of blood flow to the heart muscles. 

If a heart attack doesn’t receive immediate medical attention, it can lead to permanent heart damage or death.

The CDC reports that around 805,000 people in the United States suffer heart attacks yearly.  

But what causes a heart attack? How do you know if you’re at risk? Various factors are involved in the occurrence of heart attacks. 

This article offers an overview of the different heart attack causes you should be aware of and how to prevent them. 

How does a heart attack happen

A heart attack happens due to a shortage of oxygenated blood flow to the heart muscle. 

Usually, this occurs due to a blood clot forming within a coronary artery responsible for supplying blood to the heart. 

The clot may form due to plaque rupture (the accumulation of cholesterol and other substances on the artery’s walls). 

The clot can restrict blood flow, which may result in the loss of heart muscle cells. It may lead to chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, and additional symptoms. 

Immediate medical intervention to restore blood flow is essential to minimize damage and improve outcomes.

Main causes of heart attack

cardiovascular problemSource: Isai_Hernandez
Cardiovascular disease

The most common heart attack causes are Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), Hypertension, Diabetes, and other genetic or physical factors

Let us discuss the causes of heart attacks in detail:

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Typically, the most common cause of heart attack is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). It is a condition that causes plaque buildup within the coronary arteries. 

Plaque, which consists of cholesterol, fat, calcium, and other substances, can gradually narrow the arteries and restrict blood flow. 

When a plaque ruptures, it forms a blood clot that can block the artery. It could result in a heart attack.

Did you know? CAD symptoms can affect adults of any age older than 20. 


Diabetes, especially type 2 Diabetes, is linked to a higher likelihood of experiencing heart attacks. 

The condition leads to an increase in blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and nerves.

Nerve and blood vessel damage can cause complications in the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart attacks.

Recommended read: 7 Tips to Naturally Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Uncontrolled Hypertension

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can cause strain on the arterial walls over time. It can result in the thickening and narrowing of the blood vessels. 

This process, called atherosclerosis, involves the accumulation of plaque. Ruptured plaque can form blood clots in the coronary artery, blocking blood flow to the heart muscles.

The decreased blood supply can lead to a heart attack due to a lack of oxygen in the heart muscle cells.

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Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

Excess body weight, particularly around the abdominal area, is associated with metabolic syndrome. 

It combines high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Metabolic syndrome raises the risk of heart attacks.

Poor lifestyle

Avoid SmokingSource: Rattankun_Thongbun_from_Getty_Images
Avoid Smoking

Lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption can contribute to the causes for heart attacks. 

An unhealthy lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Diabetes. These risk factors may increase the likelihood of heart attacks.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of heart attacks in individuals under 40.

Age and gender

Age and gender may be risk factors for a heart attack. Old age may increase health concerns due to longer exposure to risk factors and gradual wear on the cardiovascular system. 

Men may have a greater risk of facing a heart attack due to hormonal differences and a greater prevalence of risk factors. 

The risk of a heart attack in women increases after menopause. However, women may experience atypical symptoms, which can lead to an underdiagnosis. 

Everyone, regardless of age and gender, should manage risk factors, adopt heart-healthy lifestyles, and get regular check-ups.

Recommended read: Can Viagra Cause a Heart Attack?

Heart attack causes — at a glance

Heart attacks are a medical emergency that can occur due to various factors, including CAD, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Obesity.

The contributing causes of a heart attack may increase with old age, poor diet and lifestyle, and a family history of heart attack. 

Working with healthcare professionals is crucial to assess risk factors and adopt strategies for heart health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary cause of heart attacks?

The primary cause of heart attacks is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which occurs due to plaque buildup in the coronary arteries.
The plaque can rupture and lead to blood clot formation in the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart.

Can age influence heart attack risk?

Yes, old age increases risk due to longer exposure to risk factors and gradual impact on the cardiovascular system.

Can genetics play a role in heart attack risk?

Yes, a family history of heart disease can increase the risk of potential heart attack, thereby increasing the risk.

How can women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s?

Women may experience atypical symptoms such as nausea, back pain, or fatigue, which can lead to underdiagnosis.
It is essential to be familiar with traditional and atypical symptoms for early detection and treatment.

Can recreational drug use increase heart attack risk?

Substances like cocaine can constrict arteries, elevate blood pressure, and increase heart attack risk.

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