About Heart Attacks

Updated:Sep 16,2016

Explore your path to a healthy heart
View an animation of a heart attack. (opens in new window)
A heart attack is a frightening experience. If you have had a heart attack, or are close with someone who has, you are not alone: tens of thousands of Americans survive.

As you work toward recovery, please use the following questions and answers to better understand what has happened to you and how you can help your heart heal so you can live a healthier, longer life.

See how coronary artery damage leads to a heart attack.

Heart Attack Questions and Answers

Your heart muscle needs oxygen to survive. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely (View an animation of blood flow). This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood flow can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that together are called plaque. This slow process is known as atherosclerosis. When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque. This blood clot can block the blood flow through the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia. When damage or death of part of the heart muscle occurs as a result of ischemia, it is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI). About every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

Learn more about diseases and conditions that affect your heart.

This content was last reviewed June 2016.

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