During a heart attack, the heart can’t get enough oxygen to keep beating and to supply blood to the rest of the body.
In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Because heart attacks are so common, it’s important to understand exactly what causes them. And we might understand this best if we take a look at the heart from the inside.
Imagine you are a tiny, round, and flat red blood cell. It is your job to carry oxygen through the entire human body. You take oxygen from a human’s lungs, and zoom through arteries to drop off that oxygen in muscles all around the body. Heart muscles are very important muscles that keep blood moving through the body. Heart muscles use oxygen to make energy so they can keep beating.
Blood can only get to the heart muscles through coronary arteries. This means coronary arteries are very important paths that need to stay open to keep the heart beating. But sometimes there are blockages along the way to the heart. These blockages are made of fatty deposits called plaque. When too much plaque builds up, you and other red blood cells can’t get by to deliver oxygen. Soon, so many cells pile up that it forms a blood clot.
If you become a clot and stop moving, the heart won’t get the oxygen it needs to keep beating. And when a heart loses oxygen, it can’t pump enough blood to power the rest of the body. This can throw off the heart’s normal rhythm, and the heart can sometimes stop beating completely. This is called a heart attack.
Heart attacks can feel different to different people. Some experience chest pain, shortness of breath or pain in their left arm. Others feel nauseous, weak or tired. A human experiencing these symptoms should always see a doctor. Eating a heart-healthy diet low in sugar and full of whole grains, vegetables and lean proteins will help red blood cells do their job. Exercising helps, too.
Additional images via Wikimedia Commons. Red kangaroo image by Adamantios. Front view of heart by BruceBlaus.
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Dr. Biology. (2018, February 14). What Happens During a Heart Attack?. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved December 8, 2023 from https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heart-attacks
Dr. Biology. "What Happens During a Heart Attack?". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 14 February, 2018. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heart-attacks
Dr. Biology. "What Happens During a Heart Attack?". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 14 Feb 2018. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 8 Dec 2023. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/heart-attacks