Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States and the world. According to the American Heart Association, someone in the United States has a heart attack approximately every 40 seconds. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 1 million people will have a heart attack or die from coronary heart disease this year. Although heart attacks are more commonly seen in older adults, anyone at any age can have a heart attack. With these staggering statistics, it is important to know your risk of developing heart disease and what you can do to prevent it.
What Are Heart Attacks?
A heart attack occurs when blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart is heavily reduced or has stopped completely. The main reason that the heart’s blood vessels could be blocked is mostly due to plaque buildup which is made up of fat, cholesterol, sugar, and other substances that can clog the arteries. Once the blockage occurs, the heart is starved of the oxygen it needs leading to a heart attack.
There are various factors that increase the chances of having a heart attack. Generally, the more risk factors present, the higher the chance of experiencing a heart attack. Some risk factors for heart disease include:
Old Age (although, anyone at any age can have heart disease or a heart attack)
Being male (women are also at risk but it is more common in males)
Genetics (if your parents had heart disease, you are more likely to have it as well)
High blood pressure
Not being physically active
Obesity or being overweight
Not all risk factors can be changed (aging, genetics, etc.). However, making improvements on risk factors that can be changed (controlling diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc.) can greatly decrease your chances of experiencing a heart attack.
Some other factors that may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease include poor diet/nutrition, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and prolonged stress.
Signs of a Heart Attack:
Some signs of a heart attack include:
Discomfort in the center of the chest
Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck, back, or stomach
Shortness of breath with or without chest pain
Other symptoms such as nausea, cold sweats, and lightheadedness
If you think you might be having a heart attack, it is important that you dial 911 and get medical attention as soon as possible.
If you are diagnosed with having had a heart attack, it is likely that your healthcare provider will start you on medications to help prevent a future attack. It is also possible to be started on these medications before experiencing your first heart attack, depending on how high your heart disease risk is. Some medications your provider may start you on include:
Cholesterol lowering medications called statins (Lipitor®, Crestor®, Zocor®, Zetia® etc).
Blood thinning agents (Xarelto®, Eliquis®, Coumadin®, etc)
Antiplatelet agents used to prevent blood clots from forming (Aspirin, Plavix®, Brilinta®, Effient®, etc)
Beta Blockers used to lower blood pressure and prevent future heart attacks (Zebeta®, Toprol XL®, Lopressor®, Tenormin®, etc)
Blood pressure lowering agents such as Zestril®, Altace®, Cozaar®, Diovan®, etc)
If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or have been determined to be at a high risk of developing heart disease, your healthcare provider will speak with you to discuss the possibility of being started on medications such as those listed above.
What Can Be Done to Prevent a Heart Attack?
Heart attacks can be frightening, but there are ways to lower your chances of experiencing one. Making lifestyle changes is one way to help lower your risk. This includes living a more active lifestyle, reducing stress, quit smoking, and reduce excessive alcohol consumption. According to the American Heart Association, “Research has shown that 3–4 [workout] sessions per week, lasting on average 40 minutes per session, and involving moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level.” However, if you are making the decision to start exercising, start slow and discuss with your health provider what activities you can engage in. A diet high in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy products will greatly help in lowering your risk. It is also important to limit your intake of foods such as red meats, high amounts of salt or sugar, sodas, and alcohol. Working with your healthcare provider to control other risk factors you may be living with (diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc) can also help in lowering your chances of having a heart attack. Lastly, maintaining a healthy weight will aid in lowering heart disease risk.
If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to help lower your risk. There are also websites such as the American Heart Association, which provide great tools and information about heart disease and what you can do to prevent it.
American Heart Association website. Heart Attack.
Attack_UCM_001092_SubHomePage.jsp. Accessed February 6, 2018.