Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Are heart attacks caused by a blood clot?"
At least five family members have had heart attacks in the past five years. I know that heart disease can be hereditary, but what's the exact cause of a heart attack.
This is an important question to discuss with your primary care physician. Heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease, the medical term for narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. The narrowing of the arteries is caused by formation of a plaque on the lining of the artery, a disease called atherosclerosis. Many risk factors contribute to atherosclerosis, including old age, male gender, family history, smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a sedentary lifestyle. Sometimes atherosclerotic plaques can become damaged or partially break away, which causes a clot to form, totally blocking the artery. When a coronary artery is totally blocked, the region of the heart muscle that depends on that artery is deprived of blood and the heart muscle begins to die. The amount of heart muscle that dies is dependent on many factors, including the location, severity, and duration of the blockage. The amount of heart muscle that is damaged is the major determinant of how severe the heart attack is, what complications will develop, and how the heart will function afterwards. Among other things, family history is an important risk factor for coronary artery disease. If you have a strong family history of coronary artery disease, it is important to visit a physician to undergo a cardiovascular risk assessment. The best first step is to make an appointment with a primary care physician. Your doctor will review your medical history, perform an examination, and possibly order diagnostic tests that will help determine your risk for coronary artery disease. This is particularly important because, in individuals at risk, a doctor can recommend lifestyle changes and even medication that may help prevent the development or progression of coronary artery disease.
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