Surprising Heart Attack Triggers

Stress, anger, even overeating can trigger a heart attack.
Roughly half of all people who have a heart attack blame an event—such as a fight with their boss or heavy exercise. Reality is more complicated.

"Heart attack patients had an underlying condition that caused the attack," says Sharonne Hayes, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic's Women's Heart Clinic. "The snow shoveling or the anger just unmasked the condition."

Surprising, silent causes of heart attacks
Heart attacks occur when a piece of plaque lining an artery wall ruptures and blocks the flow of blood to the heart. A trigger might contribute to that rupture, but the heart attack was probably inevitable—unless the person was receiving preventive treatment.

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That lesson became clear to Kevin Ambrose, 52, of Washington Grove, Md., who had his second heart attack 90 minutes after having sex with his wife. Tests showed that Ambrose had a massive blockage in his neck arteries, which also increased his risk for stroke. Within a week he was on the operating table getting a stent implanted.

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Lead writer: Catherine Albert
Last Updated: April 11, 2008

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