This Is What Really Causes Heart Attacks

You may not be a medical professional, but you surely know that a heart attack is a serious medical problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack each year and that 1 in 5 of these people is not even aware that they had a heart attack. There are several factors that can increase your chances of having a heart attack, such as age, a family history of heart attacks, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes (via Mayo Clinic).

Any time the heart is not getting enough blood flowing to it, the heart muscle starts to die. This is defined as a heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction in the medical world. If proper blood flow isn't restored to the heart, there may be permanent damage to the heart muscles and, in the worst cases, death (via Mayo Clinic). The leading cause of heart attacks goes beyond risk factors alone.

Atherosclerosis is the main cause of heart attacks

Most of us are familiar with plaque as it relates to dental health, but plaque can also form inside of our blood vessels. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside of the walls of the arteries. Plaque consists of cholesterol, fibrin, fatty substances, calcium, and waste products that cause the walls of the arteries to harden. This makes the heart arteries narrow, and interferes with blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, when plaque deposits inside of one of the heart's arteries break open, a blood clot can get stuck in this area. The blood clot can create a blockage and stop blood flow to the heart. This is what causes a heart attack. Only 5 percent of heart attacks are caused by something other than blockage due to atherosclerosis. The signs and symptoms of atherosclerosis can look similar to other heart conditions or there may not be any noticeable symptoms. It's important to get a physical exam from your doctor.