Heart Attack – What Damage Occurs to the Heart

The heart is the primary muscle the cardiovascular system. Its job is to pump blood throughout the entire body. This blood supply is carried by the coronary arteries, delivering oxygen and nutrients the body needs to function properly. Red blood cells or RBC's carry oxygen while White blood cells or WBC's fight off infections.

In the body of a healthy person, the artery walls are smooth and uniform in thickness. However, as time passes this can change. High levels of cholesterol can circulate causing fatty deposits or plaque to accumulate on the interior walls of the arteries.

As this plaque forms on the arterial wall, the artery becomes narrow and less able to be as flexible as it should be to function properly. When this build up occurs in the coronary arteries it is referred to as Coronary Artery Disease or CAD. Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis which is the narrowing and inflexibility of the arteries as mentioned earlier.

When blood flow to the heart is blocked, a heart attack (myocardial infarction, MI) can result. If blockage of a coronary artery extends past 90%, there is an increased risk for a heart attack. When plaque completely blocks or occludes a coronary artery, the risk for heart attack is certain.

Blood clots are another risk that can cause a heart attack. These clots form when a crack develops in the hardened plaque. Blood will accumulate in these cracks and begin to grow. As it grows, it will eventually shut off the blood supply, thus resulting in a heart attack.

The location of the blockage and the amount of time it takes to receive treatment determine how much damage the heart will sustain during an attack. The longer it takes to receive proper medical care, the more damage the heart will endure. The good news is that atherosclerosis can be prevented, thus lowering the risk for enduring a heart attack event.

The disease process can be slowed in progression by simple lifestyle changes. For example, losing excess weight, quitting smoking, starting a low fat, low cholesterol diet and regular exercise. These simple tasks can lower your risk for this disease.

In an ideal world everyone would get complete instructions and education on how to reduce their risk factors for heart disease, but due to shortened hospital stays this is not always possible. Take the time to educate yourself to stay healthy.

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