Risk Factors for Heart Attack

Heart attack risk factors: Which can be treated or controlled and which can't

Several factors raise the risk for heart attack and coronary artery disease. The more risk factors someone has, the greater the chance of developing coronary artery disease. Also, the risk increases as each risk factor increases (for instance, high blood pressure that's just a bit higher than normal is less of a risk than skyrocketing high blood pressure).

Heart attack risk factors that can be controlled or modified:

  • High blood cholesterol. As cholesterol rises, so does the risk of coronary artery disease. The goal is to keep total blood cholesterol levels as low as possible, according to the American Heart Association (AMA). Although many physicians maintain that LDL is a more effective gauge of risk than total (HDL plus LDL) blood cholesterol, the AMA offers these guidelines for blood cholesterol levels:
  • Total blood cholesterol. Everyone should try to keep their levels below 200 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL).
  • HDL ("good") blood cholesterol. Women should try to have levels of 50 mg/dL or higher. Men should aim for 40 mg/dL or higher.
  • LDL ("bad") blood cholesterol. In general, the lower the LDL level, the lower the risk. (Have the person in your care speak with a physician about her individual risks and ideal levels.) Here’s how the AMA ranks the various levels of LDL:

Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal

100 to 129 mg/dL: Near optimal/above optimal

130 to 159 mg/dL: Borderline high

160 to 189 mg/dL: High

190 mg/dL and above: Very high

  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Ideally, blood pressure should be lower than 120/80 mm Hg (or millimeters of mercury).
  • Diabetes. Just having diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are much greater if blood sugar isn’t well controlled. Keeping blood sugar levels within a person's target range can make a huge difference.
  • Smoking. Smokers have up to four times greater risk of developing coronary artery disease than nonsmokers. People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk, too, but it isn't as great as that of cigarette smokers. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Physical inactivity. Regular physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Vigorous exercise offers greater benefits -- if a person has built up to it. However, even moderate-intensity activities help if done regularly. (Any heart patient should consult her physician before beginning an exercise program.)
  • Obesity and overweight. People with excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease, especially if the fat is distributed mostly around the waist. The recommended waist circumference is 35 inches or less for women, 40 inches or less for men. Shedding as few as ten pounds lowers heart disease risk.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Drinking too much can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels and cause arrhythmias and heart failure. But a "moderate" amount of alcohol (an average of one drink daily for women, two for men) may actually lower the risk of heart disease. However, because drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol may increase cancer risk, it's not recommended that nondrinkers start drinking.

Heart attack risk factors that can't be changed

  • Increasing age. More than 83 percent of people who die of coronary artery disease are 65 or older. As a person ages, the risk of having a heart attack increases.
  • Being male. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. But women are more likely to have undiagnosed heart disease and are more likely to die from heart attacks than men.
  • Family history. Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.

Stephanie Trelogan

Stephanie Trelogan writes about heart disease, stroke, and depression issues that concern people caring for their aging parents. See full bio

over 4 years, said...

I have learned that Obesity causes diabetes and diabetes -risk of heart diseases. Many diseases are interlinked, which give rise to the other disease, i have always read that this disease causes that disease, that disease causes the other one, like a cycle. one factor that i want to share is Aircraft's' noise ups the risk of heart disease

about 5 years, said...

I have diabetes,i stoped taking insuline 5 weeks ago due to financial problems. I would like to know what are the risks are. I have high blood pressure as well.

over 5 years, said...

I thank you for the wonderful article I just read about the seven signs of possible heart problems. I am 72 and retired and as I read through the seven things to watch for woke me up. I can clearly see four of the seven things pointed out in myself. I will plan on discussing this with my care provider at my next visit. If you read these post' then please pay attention to the message they and this article are sending to you. Many die before their time because they ignore the warning signs. I hope that is not you my friend.

over 6 years, said...

I'M A 44 YEAR OLD FEMALE I HAVE HEART DISEASE. I HAVE A WEAK HEART . MY NAME IS FRANCIE L PARR .... i'm sending my prayers and huges to everyone .

almost 7 years, said...

the cholesterol levels were different than what I had thought. thank you

almost 7 years, said...

I am a female over 65. I am working on lowering my cholestral. My blood pressure recently became elevated as well. The results of a cardiac cath showed only that I have a moderate regurgitation of the mitral valve. I want to do whatever I can to maintain heart health. This article is a reminder for me to keep a watch on both issues.

over 7 years, said...

Discomfort felt in areas like abdomen, shoulders, upper portion of the back, jaw and neck. Succinctness in breathing or one feels as though one is not able to get ample air. This briefness of breath mostly would be felt prior to or alongside chest pains or discomforting sensation. Feeling nauseous or puking, perspiration. Feeling lightheaded or dizzy. Atypical feeling of weariness, heartburn. Lost craving for food, Cardiac flutter and coughing are the symptoms which are prominently seen. http://www.womenhealthcenter.net/womens-heart-disease.html

over 7 years, said...

God bless everyone!

over 8 years, said...

In the cases of heart attack and cardiac arrest, or any other heart shocks, time sets to be the most crucial factor for the survival of the patient. Sometimes, a little knowledge regarding the immediate actions to be taken may help your near and dear ones to survive in such incidents. The response a person takes to treat a victim decides the probability of his/her survival. Its been my personal experience fighting to survive against a heart attack. A quick reorganization of your bodily responses may increase your chances of survival. Because of having many heart problems, I was enrolled in a concierge Healthcare program from elite health. I was attacked by a severe heart attack in a party, luckily surrounded by many people. Some of the sudden changes in my body was recognized by me and anticipated immediately. I got a very severe chest pain which was almost unbearable for more than a minute. I got the suspicion that I might be having heart attack, and immediately called my physician on the phone, and explained my condition and its severity. Because of the immediate guidance, I was directed immediately to have an aspirin which I used to carry with me as prescribed by my physician. It was quite a frightening experience for me to face such a heart attack, but somehow I managed to be calm until 911 arrived. I was immediately taken to the nearest hospital, where already my physician were present and have got everything setup according to my medical history. And it was in some matter of seconds that everything was in control. A doctor, who already have the complete knowledge of the medical history and fitness of the person, extra ordinarily ameliorate your recovery process. Hence such a concierge level program from Elite health, helped me a save my life, like many others.