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A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted. This deprives the heart muscle of oxygen, causing tissue damage or tissue death. Other names for heart attack include coronary attack, myocardial infarction, coronary thrombosis, and coronary occlusion.

Heart Attack

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Heart attack is an outcome of coronary artery disease (CAD), also called coronary heart disease. If too much plaque (fatty material) builds up in the coronary arteries, it can decrease the blood flow to the heart. If the plaque tears, a blood clot will form that may close off or severely narrow the artery. A heart attack occurs when the clot blocks the flow of blood to the heart. Cells in the heart start to die if they are without oxygen-rich blood for more than a few minutes. Heart attack also can occur if an artery that supplies the heart starts to spasm or contract. The spasm decreases or can stop blood flow. A heart attack can result from a severe spasm.

Blood Clots in the Heart

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

More than 80 million people in the US have some form of cardiovascular disease. Every year about 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attack.

References:

American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org. Accessed August 14, 2008.

Ferri F, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2010. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009.

Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008.

Kasper DL, Harrison TR. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2005.

Libby P, Braunwald E, et al. Braunwald’s Heart Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

Noble J, Greene HL, et al. Textbook of Primary Care Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 1996.

Rakel R. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

Rakel RE, Bope ET, Conn HF. Conn's Current Therapy. 60th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael J. Fucci, DO

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.