Heart Attacks: Is There an Average Age That Increases Your Odds?

Heart attacks can happen to anyone, but there may people more at risk than others.

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There are a few conditions that affect Americans the most every year. One of those conditions is a heart attack. In fact, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 805,000 individuals have a heart attack annually, and heart attacks occur every 40 seconds.

Sharonne Hayes, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic's Women's Heart Clinic, said that when she started practicing in the mid-1980s, healthcare providers couldn't do much for people having heart attacks. However, per the American Heart Association, more options to treat those who have had heart attacks have become available—especially with the knowledge of heart attack risk factors.

If you're wondering if you might be at risk for a heart attack, here's what you should know.

What Are the Signs of a Heart Attack?

According to the American Heart Association, when there is decreased or closed-off blood flow to the heart muscle, a heart attack—or myocardial infarction—results.

The signs of a heart attack could include:

  • Chest or other upper-body (e.g., arms) discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

The American Heart Association also noted that these symptoms can be different for men and women—women tend to experience more of the symptoms coupled with chest pain.

If you experience any of these symptoms, particularly all of a sudden, contact emergency medical staff as soon as possible.

So, Who Is Most at Risk?

In general, the probability of you having a heart attack depends on three categories of risk factors, per the American Heart Association: major, modifiable, and contributing. Although all risk factors are crucial, major risk factors carry the most concern, as they cannot be changed and indicate an increased risk for heart disease and attacks.

Those in older populations (65 years of age or older)—have a higher heart attack risk. Heart attacks are more likely to occur in men than in women, and men may also have heart attacks at an earlier age.

The American Heart Association also said that heredity can play a role in the likelihood of heart attacks as well. Both family history and racial descent can increase your chances of having a heart attack.

There are medical conditions that can put you at risk for a heart attack as well. These conditions include diseases and disorders such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. A June 2021 article published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes indicated that these same conditions could also be responsible for premature myocardial infarction.

Finally, heart attack risk is higher for individuals who smoke or drink, are physically inactive, experience increased stress, or have an unhealthy diet.

Beating the Odds

You may be able to lower your risk for more myocardial infarctions by simply making lifestyle changes. For example, being more physically active and modifying your diet can reverse or control any other conditions, like diabetes or obesity, that place you at a higher risk for heart attacks.

Even if you end up having a heart attack, things can still look promising. Researchers of a June 2021 Medical Journal of Australia study followed 239,402 individuals who had been admitted due to heart attacks for up to seven years after their heart attacks. They found that the survival rate was 62.5% overall after the time period. They also discovered that, for individuals who had heart attacks and were under 65 years old, the survival rate was over 85%.

Thus, it seems that survival odds for people who have had a heart attack keep getting better thanks to advances in diagnosis, medication, and lifesaving technology. The American Heart Association lists over 20 different treatments, like procedures and medications, that are available for those who have had heart attacks.

This may be why cardiologists are optimistic about the rate of improvement in cardiac care. "…[W]e can stop a heart attack in its tracks," Dr. Hayes said. "Patients have a much better chance at recovery."

All in all, regardless if you are at lower risk or at higher risk of having a heart attack, you'll want to take it to heart to take care of your heart.

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