If you know you're at higher risk of a heart attack due to circumstances beyond your control, pay closer attention to lifestyle factors you can change to cut your risk of heart attack.
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As you get older, your risk of a heart attack goes up.
More than 80% of people who die of heart disease are 65 or older. And it's not just men.
In fact, older women who have a heart attack are more likely to die within a few weeks of the attack than older men who have heart attacks.
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Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women's death rate from heart disease increases, it's not as great as men's.
That said, heart disease is still the leading cause of death among American women, far surpassing any type of cancer, says Richard Milani, MD, the vice chairman of cardiology at the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. (You can read more about women's heart health and take our women's heart-health quiz to find out how to prevent heart attacks).
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If you have a close relative such as a parent or sibling who developed heart disease prematurelybefore 55 for men and 65 for womenyour chances of getting it is higher.
However, "if you do have a family history, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to repeat the sins of your parents," says Dr. Milani, who is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. While it could be genetic, it could also be that "they had a bad lifestyle that you don’t have, and that’s what really caused their heart problems."
A healthy lifestyle, regular check-ups, and keeping a lookout for symptoms can help.
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Compared to whites, heart disease risk is is higher among African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans.
This may be due to higher rates of diabetes or obesity in some groups compared to others. It often "relates back to one of the risk factors that lead to heart attacks,” says Dr. Milani.
For example, African Americans are at greater risk of high blood pressure, which may be one reason they are also more likely to experience heart problems, he says.
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If you haven’t found a reason to quit smoking yet, read this: Your heart disease risk is two to four times higher if you smoke cigarettes.
Smoking "is truly one of the worst, if not the worst, risk factor because it impacts so many things," says Dr. Milani. It injures the arteries, contributes to cholesterol problems, and raises the risk of blood clots. "It's the ultimate devil," he adds.
Roughly 34 million Americans today have cholesterol levels that could lead to heart problems; as fit and healthy as some might appear, if their total cholesterol is rising, so is their risk of heart disease.
Think you know what it takes to keep your cholesterol in check? Take our quiz to find out.
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High blood pressure
About one in three adults in America has high blood pressure, which makes the heart work harder to pump blood. Hypertension increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and heart failure.
High blood pressure can be controlled with medication. Things like losing weight, becoming more active, easting less salt, and drinking less alcohol, can all help to a lower blood pressure.
Dr. Milani recommends eating a "Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to highly reduce the recurrence of heart attacks." That means eating plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats, like olive oil.
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If you have type 2 diabetes your risk of heart disease goes upa lotalthough controlling blood sugar will help.
"Diabetic women are at the highest risk of getting into trouble with heart disease compared to all other groups," says Dr. Milani. "Diabetes narrows the arteries, and womenby virtue of their size differencealready have smaller arteries than their male counterparts, in general."
Luckily the same steps that help diabetesexercise and healthy eatingcan also lower heart risk.
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