Heart attacks: Clarifying the causes and consequences

Not all heart attacks result from a blocked artery — and even small ones can have serious outcomes.


Image: © patrickheagney/Getty Images

Perhaps you've heard heart attacks described in various ways, from "mild" to "massive," or even the ominous-sounding "widow maker." But these terms may sow confusion and anxiety.

The good news: Most people who have a heart attack survive. The bad news? "Any heart attack can be fatal, no matter how big, how small, or where it occurs in the heart," says Dr. James Januzzi, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated -Massachusetts -General Hospital. There's a lot of mis-understanding among the general public about what a heart attack actually is, he adds.

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