Harvard Heart Letter

Putting heart attack, stroke triggers in perspective

The brief boost in risk usually doesn't linger.

Artery-clogging atherosclerosis is a slow, silent process that often begins in one's teens or 20s. Some people with atherosclerosis live out their lives completely untouched by it. Some develop chest pain (angina) or other problems when they exercise or are under stress. And some have heart attacks or strokes.

What kicks atherosclerosis over the edge, changing it from a relatively predictable, chronic problem to a potentially life-threatening emergency? Usually a trigger — a physical or emotional jolt that sparks a sudden change in the cardiovascular system.

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