Heart Attack Pathology - Causes

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What causes a Heart Attack?

Rupture of a stable plaque in a coronary artery is the initial pathological event leading to a heart attack. When the rupture occurs, a clot suddenly forms in the lumen (channel) of the artery at the site of the rupture. Bleeding into the plaque often accompanies the rupture. The clot then blocks (occludes) the artery and thereby decreases the blood flow to the heart. This sequence of events in the coronary arteries is the basic problem in over 75% of people who suffer a heart attack. In some patients, more often women, there is just an erosion or ulceration of the plaque surface, rather than a full rupture that leads to clot formation in the coronary artery. Figure 3 shows an atherosclerotic plaque rupture and a clot in a coronary artery.

Figure 3: Rupture of Atherosclerotic Plaque in Coronary Artery
Cross-sectional Microscopic View

Picture of Rupture of Plaque in Coronary Artery

Return to Heart Attack Pathology: Photo Essay

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