When an unstable plaque in a narrowed coronary artery ruptures into the lumen of
the artery, the body may attempt to “heal” the break by forming a blood clot, and the
clot may partially or completely block the artery. The sudden loss of blood flow to
the heart causes a “heart attack” that is usually painful, often weakens the pumping
ability of the heart and may cause a myocardial infarct—the death of some of the
If a heart attack affects a large area of the heart, the ability of the
heart to pump blood may be so compromised that heart failure or death results.
Death can also occur if a heart attack causes a disruption of the electrical signals that
coordinate the heart’s pumping action. The result may be irregular uncoordinated
heartbeats, called ventricular fibrillation. This prevents the heart from pumping
enough blood to sustain life. Unfortunately, often the first sign of heart disease is a
heart attack, and about half of first-time heart attacks result in sudden death within
the first hour after the attack.
There is also another form of heart disease, more common in women, that is caused
by microvascular dysfunction and poor blood flow through the small blood vessels
of the heart. The condition is called ischemia and no obstructive coronary artery
disease (INOCA). It may cause cardiac dysfunction, decreased exercise tolerance,
and angina. INOCA does not show up on arteriograms but carries a high risk for
heart attack, heart failure, and death.
High blood pressure and atherosclerosis increase the risk of a disruption of blood
circulation to the brain, either because an artery is blocked or because of a weak or
damaged artery ruptures and causes bleeding in the brain. The result is a stroke.
Other sites where narrowed or blocked arteries commonly cause serious problems
are the blood vessels supplying the kidneys, the carotid arteries in the neck that
carry blood to the brain, and the arteries that supply the muscles in the arms or legs.
Peripheral artery disease that limits the blood supply to the legs can cause claudication—
leg pain on walking or more strenuous exercise. This is a problem for an
estimated 8.5 million Americans with annual hospital costs estimated to be more
than $21 billion.
Other forms of cardiovascular disease include the impaired ability of the heart to
pump blood due to congenital defects, damage to the valves of the heart, or disruption
of the regularity of the heart’s beat as occurs with atrial fibrillation. CVD also
includes blood clots. Those that form in a leg vein can travel to the lungs and cause
a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism. Atrial fibrillation makes it more likely that
a blood clot will form in the heart, and if it breaks loose, it can go to the brain and
cause a stroke.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel