A heart attack is a well-known type of medical emergency. Most people are aware of the basic classical symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. However, not everyone knows what happens physiologically when a person is having a heart attack.
The heart muscle is supplied by blood vessels called coronary arteries. As the heart muscle works to pump blood, it uses up oxygen, just like any other muscle in the body. The coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle so that it has enough oxygen to function. A heart attack is what happens when one of these coronary arteries becomes blocked and the area of cardiac muscle it supplies dies due to lack of oxygen. This type of damage to the heart muscle is also called a myocardial infarction.
There are multiple ways that this can happen. The most common way is for a blood clot to form in a coronary artery. The other way is for a cholesterol-rich substance called plaque to build up in the coronary arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart muscle. This is called coronary artery disease, or atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries. People with coronary artery disease are also more prone to developing blood clots, because blood cells are more likely to stick to the areas of plaque that are partially occluding the coronary arteries.
If you have had a heart attack before, you are more likely to have another one in the future than a person who has never suffered from a heart attack. Coronary artery disease can contribute to the risk of developing other cardiovascular problems besides a heart attack, such as poor circulation elsewhere in the body and congestive heart failure. A heart attack and heart failure are different things. In a heart attack, part of the heart muscle is damaged due to lack of oxygen. In heart failure, the heart muscle is not strong enough to pump blood efficiently to the body. However, having coronary artery disease increases the risk of developing both conditions.