Harvard Heart Letter

What triggers heart attacks?

Sudden stress "" whether it's from anger, a heat wave, or getting out of bed "" can be the final "insult" that sets off a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest.

Heart attacks, strokes, and cardiac arrests seem like they come out of the blue, but most don't. They usually appear after cholesterol-rich plaque has festered for decades in arteries nourishing the heart and brain. So what makes one happen at a particular time? A trigger.

Researchers have identified about two dozen of these. They're a diverse crew, ranging from anger and earthquakes to simply waking up in the morning. The ongoing search for triggers is generating ways to prevent potentially deadly cardiovascular events.

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