The primary cause of a heart attack is progression of coronary heart disease, a disorder that consists of clogged coronary arteries filled with fatty, calcified plaques, explains WebMD. When a blood clot forms on top of the plaque, it cuts off the blood flow and causes a heart attack.
Certain risk factors contribute to a heart attack, according to Mayo Clinic. Women aged 55 and older and men 45 and older are more at risk for a heart attack as are individuals who smoke or who have had long-term exposure to secondhand smoke. People with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol over a period of time are at risk for a heart attack as well as individuals with uncontrolled diabetes.
A family history of heart attacks and heart disease increases the likelihood of a heart attack, explains Mayo Clinic. An inactive lifestyle that contributes to obesity, and high blood cholesterol puts individuals at risk for heart problems as well. Stress is another risk factor for heart attacks because blood pressure can rise when tension exists. Stimulant drugs and illegal drug use can trigger spasms within the arteries and ultimately provoke a heart attack. Women with a history of preeclampsia, a disorder that increases blood pressure during pregnancy, are at risk for heart problems as are individuals with autoimmune conditions, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.