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    Heart Attack Causes

    Most heart attacks are the result of coronary heart disease, a condition that clogs coronary arteries with fatty, calcified plaques. In the early 1980s, researchers confirmed that the immediate cause of nearly all heart attacks is not the obstructive plaque itself. Instead, it's the sudden formation of a blood clot on top of plaque that ruptures and subsequently cuts off blood flow in an already narrowed blood vessel.

    The step-by-step process that leads to heart attack is not fully understood. Major risk factors, though, are well-known, and some can be controlled. Of these, the main ones are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle. Stress may also raise the risk, and exertion and excitement can act as triggers for an attack. Another important risk factor is family history. A family history of heart disease can increase the risk in both men and women at earlier ages.

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    Men over the age of 50 with a family history of heart disease are predisposed to heart attack. High levels of estrogen are thought to protect premenopausal women fairly well, but the risk of heart attack increases significantly after menopause.

    We are learning more about the risk factors specific for women, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.  Autoimmune diseases and inflammatory diseases, that  are more prevalent in women, also increase the risk. 

    Heart Attack Diagnosis

    A cardiologist, or heart specialist, relies on various tests to diagnose a heart attack. These tests can also identify sites of blockage as well as tissue damage.

    Assessing for heart damage using an ECG, which also is able to monitor the heart's electrical activity, together with blood tests provides data for an initial assessment of the patient's condition. Images of the heart and coronary arteries done with angiograms and radioisotope scans locate specific areas of damage and blockage. Ultrasound tests called echocardiograms evaluate the heart's function and can evaluate whether or not the heart muscle has been damaged, as well as visualize the function of the valves. With such data, the doctor can decide on proper treatment as well as anticipate potential complications.

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