Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Heart attack

Heart attack
beginning of content

Causes of a heart attack

2-minute read

Like all other tissues and organs in the body, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. If the blood supply to part of the heart is suddenly interrupted, the heart muscles may be damaged and begin to die.

If this is not treated, the affected part of the heart muscle will experience irreversible damage. If a large portion of the heart is damaged in this way, the heart will stop beating (a cardiac arrest), resulting in death.

Coronary heart disease (CHD)

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. CHD is a condition in which the coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that supply the heart with blood) get clogged up with deposits of cholesterol. These deposits are called 'plaques'.

During a heart attack, one of the plaques ruptures (bursts), causing a blood clot to develop at the site of the rupture. The clot may then block the supply of blood running through the coronary arteries to that part of the heart, triggering a heart attack.

Some people are more at risk than others of developing heart disease. Some risks you can't do anything about, like your genes, your ethnic background, your age and your gender.

But the way you live your life can also put you at risk of heart disease. You are more at risk of having a heart attack if:

  • you smoke
  • you have high cholesterol
  • you have high blood pressure
  • you have diabetes
  • you are physicaly inactive
  • you are overweight or obese
  • you eat an unhealthy diet
  • you have depression or are isolated from other people and don't have good support

Last reviewed: July 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Heart attack

A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart. As a result, some of your heart muscle begins to die. Without early medical treatment, this damage can be permanent.

Read more on WA Health website

What is a heart attack? | The Heart Foundation

Get information on types of heart attack, know the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack and learn facts about heart attack

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart attack - Better Health Channel

Heart attack is an emergency. If you have warning signs of heart attack, get help fast. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

What causes a heart attack? | The Heart Foundation

Knowing what causes a heart attack is the first step to preventing a heart attack or stroke. Learn the risks and causes of a heart attack and how to manage them.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

About heart attacks | The Heart Foundation

Have you had a heart attack? Understanding what happened during your heart attack can help you recover more quickly.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart attack - myDr.com.au

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) means the blood supply to part of the heart muscle has become blocked. Early treatment can reduce damage to the muscle.

Read more on myDr website

After my heart attack | The Heart Foundation

A guide to understanding your heart attack

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Heart attack treatment | The Heart Foundation

Learn how heart attacks are treated by health professionals, what happens in hospital and questions to ask your doctor.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Symptoms of heart attack & stroke in women | Jean Hailes

Knowing the symptoms of heart attack and stroke may not only save your life it may also save the life of another. Symptoms of heart attack in women can be different to men and include pain and pressure in the chest, neck, arm, jaw, shortness of breath, di

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Exercise tips after a heart attack | The Heart Foundation

Heart attack recovery exercise program with recommended goals and activity

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo