The general answer to what causes heart attacks is - atherosclerosis. It is a condition caused by deposition of plaque (fatty deposits), on the walls of a coronary artery until the blood flow to the heart is totally blocked.
However,this is not always the cause for a heart attack. The truth is that severe coronary artery blocks usually result in chest pain known as angina and other related symptoms.
Also,it has been observed among heart attack victims that, more than half report not experiencing any warning symptom. Again, autopsies of such patients frequently show blood clots formed in arteries that are not completely narrowed.
Another factor is the high incidence of deaths in spite of surgical procedures that lessen the chance of heart attacks. Bypass surgery enables the blood to flow around blockages whereas angioplasty and stenting clear blockages. Yet, annually, 200,000 to 500,000 American deaths result from coronary artery disease.
Could there be another cause for heart attacks?
Many researchers have now turned their focus from atherosclerosis to another commonly noticed condition.
In some patients, there is a tendency to develop a form of plaque, which is more prone to inflammation and rupture. As a result, cells get spilled into the bloodstream causing rapid clotting. Such plaques are referred to as 'vulnerable' plaque.
Not much is known about how these plaques are formed ;even less, about what makes them rupture. 'Figuring out who is going to have plaque rupture would be the Holy Grail of cardiology,' said Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, a research cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
A 4- year research study will be announced shortly by a consortium that plans to invest $30 million in a major plaque research program. It will be headed by Dr. Valentin Fuster, a New York cardiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
The study will include 4,000 to 6,000 patients with a minimum of two known risk factors for heart attacks. They will be closely observed and the outcome of the study is expected to help drug companies create new therapeutic products.