What is a heart attack in simple terms?

What exactly is a heart attack?

A heart attack is a closure of one or more of the heart’s arteries (the coronary arteries) sufficient to damage some heart muscle cells. The closure is due first to narrowing of the artery by atherosclerotic plaques, followed by a clot (or thrombus) that completely closes the artery, causing the usual “heart attack.”

A heart attack, sometimes referred to as a “coronary,” has two interchangeable “official” names: either coronary thrombosis or myocardial infarction (the latter often called Ml). Since thrombosis means “clot,” the term coronary thrombosis refers to the clot that blocks an artery. The narrowing of the artery makes it susceptible to a clot. The myocardial infarction is the end result: the heart muscle (the myocardium), now starved for oxygen because blood is no longer reaching some of the muscle, responds with an infarction. The term infarction is derived from a Latin word infarcire meaning “to stuff in” referring to the reddish and swollen appearance of that injured part of the heart.

The closure of an artery by the thrombosis injures the heart’s muscle cells, which release some chemicals, called enzymes, into the bloodstream, allowing your doctor to help confirm the diagnosis by measuring the levels of these enzymes.


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