10 Heart Attack Risk Factors
Preventing heart attacks
Some risk factors for heart disease can be controlled, and some can't.
According to the
American Heart Association, here are the leading factors that put you at risk for coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
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.
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.
If you have a close relative such as a parent or sibling who developed heart disease prematurely—before 55 for men and 65 for women—your 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.
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.
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.
Still not convinced it’s time to quit? Here are
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.
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.
Thinking about skipping the gym again? Keep in mind that living an inactive life is a major heart disease risk factor.
30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week could greatly reduce your risk, but any activity is better than none.
safe, moderate exercise can keep your heart healthy and potentially save your life.
- People who have excess body fat—especially around the midsection—are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke even if they have no other risk factors.
- The good news is that there are many simple foods that are good for your heart and your waistline.
- 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.
If you have type 2 diabetes your risk of heart disease goes up—a lot—although 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 women—by virtue of their size difference—already have smaller arteries than their male counterparts, in general."
Luckily the same steps that help diabetes—exercise and healthy eating—can also lower heart risk.