What Is a Heart Attack?

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12573

"Heart attack!" is one of the scariest phrases you can hear. What exactly happens to the heart during an attack? What is the heart's enemy? Can attacks be prevented? Research the answer on your own!


Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Few medical episodes are as scary as a heart attack. Why do you think it is called a heart attack? Who attacks whom?

Have you ever known someone who had a heart attack?

Some patients survive these events, while others suffer massive heart attacks and die. Your heart needs constant oxygen to continue pumping blood; without oxygen the heart tissue can die. A heart attack occurs when the supply of oxygenated blood is blocked or stopped. Oxygenated blood is transported through arteries, tough tubes that take blood to the heart.

If you missed or need to review the previous Related Lessons in our Circulatory System series on the system basics and its relationship with the body, find them in the right-hand sidebar.

normal artery

Arteries may become blocked due to the build-up of waxy plaque. This substance can build up over time and completely block the artery, reducing blood flow to the heart.

blocked arteries

When plaque builds up in arteries, it is called "atherosclerosis." This condition worsens over time and can be caused by diet and lifestyle.


If arterial blocks are left untreated, the lack of fresh blood supply can lead to a heart attack. Heart attacks can lead to more serious health risks, such as heart failure and an irregular heartbeat, so it is important to treat them immediately!

Heart attacks can occur without warning, so knowing the symptoms can help save lives. The most common warning symptoms for men and women include chest pain or discomfort, discomfort in arms, back, shoulder, neck, or jaw, and shortness of breath.

hear attack warning signs

Some patients show additional symptoms, like cold sweats, nausea, dizziness, and extreme fatigue. When an individual starts to display these symptoms, call 911 immediately! It is imperative that the patient receive medical treatment quickly.

Heart attacks occur frequently in the United States — the current rate is about one per minute! Most heart attacks occur because of a blockage in the artery that prevents adequate blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle. It is a very serious event, so we need to be educated on the symptoms of heart attacks and be prepared to call emergency services right away.

  • Why do you think it is called a heart attack?
  • Can you describe to a parent or teacher what happens to the heart tissue during a heart attack?
  • Based on what you've learned, how do you think people can prevent heart attacks?

In the Got It? section, you will learn more about strategies people can use to prevent heart attacks.

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