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Heart Attacks


A heart attack is a sudden and often dramatic event, but it is usually the result of a process that has been going on for many years. The walls of your coronary arteries may have become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty materials. This condition is called ‘atherosclerosis’. The fatty material is called ‘atheroma’.

The walls of these diseased arteries may crack and blood cells, called platelets become attracted to the damaged areas. A clot (or thrombus), that includes fibrous material called ‘fibrin’, may form on top of this. This can suddenly and completely block off our artery. If your artery is blocked for more than a few minutes, the muscle cells in the area of your heart supplied by that artery may become permanently damaged. This is called a heart attack. Often, the amount of muscle damage is small and, once the heart attack is over, there is enough good muscle left for the heart to carry on its work satisfactory.


Heart attacks often happen to people who seem to have been perfectly well. In other people, a heart attack may follow weeks, months or years of angina. In many cases, a heart attack happens when a person’s pattern of angina has recently changed from ‘stable angina’ to ‘unstable angina’.

Stable angina is angina that comes on with a particular amount of exercise, and is well controlled with drugs. If the pattern changes and the angina comes on with less and less exercise, or even while you are resting, this is known as ‘unstable angina’.

There are four major lifestyle risk factors – things which increase people’s risk of having a heart attack.

These are:

1. Smoking
2. High blood pressure
3. High blood cholesterol and
4. Physical inactivity

Other lifestyle factors also play a part. These include: drinking too much alcohol, having too much salt and being overweight or obese.Heart attack can run in families and those who suffer from diabetes are also more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease.


You should aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as there is evidence that eating a diet that is rich in a range of vegetables and fruits lower the risk of heart disease. You should cut down on salt otherwise those who have a lot of salt in their diet seem to more likely to have high blood pressure.


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Heart Foundation