The heart is a muscular organ that depends on a constant, adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to maintain its function as a pump in the circulatory system. Oxygenated blood is delivered to the heart by two large coronary arteries, which are branched to supply all areas of the organ. When one of these coronary arteries or its branches are blocked, oxygen supply to a region of the heart is compromised, which can lead to immediate tissue damage and death, a phenomenon that is more commonly known as a heart attack.
Every year, more than 700,000 Americans experience a heart attack. Most of these people have a heart attack for the first time in their lives. Records show that about 15 percent of people who experience a heart attack die from it. A heart attack may occur suddenly or may evolve over several hours. Many sudden cardiac deaths occur outside the hospital, suggesting that many people who have heart disease do not act to prevent a heart attack.
Although many people still believe that heart disease is a condition that affects older adults, experts from the American Heart Association recommend that people as young as twenty years old must begin acting on their own behalf to prevent a heart attack. Furthermore, adults are encouraged to calculate their risk of having a heart attack in order to become more vigilant about their heart health. Since the most common cause of heart attacks is coronary heart disease, it is important to know the risk factors that are involved in developing the condition.
Coronary Heart Disease and Heart Attack Risk Factors
Major risk factors that significantly increase the likelihood of a heart attack include modifiable and non-modifiable factors.
Non-modifiable factors are those that are inherent and cannot be changed, such as your age, your gender and other hereditary factors, including your race.
- More than 80% of people who die from a heart attack are older than 65 years of age.
- Men are more likely to die from a heart attack compared to women, and they may experience heart attack at a younger age. A man’s risk increases by the age of 45, while a woman’s risk increases by the age of 55.
- People who have a family history of dying from heart disease are at greater risk than those who do not. African Americans have a greater tendency to have high blood pressures and heart disease. Higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are also associated with certain population groups, such as Mexican Americans and American Indians.
Modifiable risk factors are those that one can change, control or treat to prevent heart disease. These include:
- Cigarette smoking, which increases your risk more than two to four times.
- Having a high blood cholesterol level
- Having high blood pressure
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Being obese or overweight
- Being diabetic (having high blood sugar levels)
Contributing risk factors are other factors that may increase one’s risk of heart disease, although their effects have not yet been fully determined. These include:
- Stress and how an individual responds to it
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Dietary and nutritional factors, which can influence one’s body weight, blood cholesterol level, etc.
- Use of illegal drugs, especially stimulant drugs
Are You at Risk?
Of the major modifiable risk factors, smoking, having a high blood pressure and having high cholesterol have a significant impact on one’s risk of developing heart disease. Studies show that about half of all American adults have at least one of these three major risk factors.
To learn more about your risk of having a heart attack, visit the following helpful links:
Heart Attack Risk Assessment. For people who have not been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes, this tool can help you evaluate your risk of experiencing a heart attack.
My Diabetes Health Assessment. This tool is helpful for people who have diabetes and want to determine their risk of heart disease.
Understand Your Risk of Heart Attack. This link describes the major and contributing factors that increase your risk of heart attack.
How to Prevent a Heart Attack
Heart disease is the leading cause of all deaths in the US. Although you cannot alter your age, your family history, or genetic predisposition to heart disease, there are many ways you can reduce your risk of developing this condition or suffering from a heart attack.
The most important step to take care of your heart is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Many Americans are obese or overweight, physically inactive, and use cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs which may harm their health. Here are some recommendations to reduce your risk of heart attack:
Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention. The American Heart Association provides this rich resource to guide you on how to improve your modifiable risk factors and to develop a heart-healthy lifestyle.
In Pictures: How To Avoid A Heart Attack. This article provides a multimedia presentation of tips offered by various cardiologists on how to improve your lifestyle and avoid a heart attack.
8 Ways to Lower Your Heart Disease Risk. WebMD provides a quick summary on how to lower your risk of heart disease, with links to various articles for more details.
Possible Heart Symptoms Never to Ignore. Some people are not aware that they have heart disease and that they are at risk of dying from a heart attack. This slide show presents the warning symptoms of heart disease that one must not ignore.
Diet is an important part of protecting the heart. Find out which foods can help promote heart health and prevent disease.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. This comprehensive file, published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, provides authoritative dietary advice that aims to promote overall health and reduce the risk of disease.
Medications to Prevent Heart Attack. Aside from improving your lifestyle, doctors may prescribe certain medications to reduce your risk of a heart attack or to treat your condition if you have had a previous heart attack.
Consult your doctor if you feel you are at risk of developing heart disease to obtain more information about improving your heart health.