About The Author
Noura M. Dabbouseh, MS, MD
Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin
Someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These attacks are serious and sometimes deadly, but taking time to learn and understand heart attack risk factors can help lower your risk.
Heart attacks occur when part of the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood flow. This happens when your arteries become narrowed due to plaque – a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances. When a piece of the plaque breaks off, it can clog your artery and lead to a blockage. The longer it takes to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle, making timely treatment of the utmost importance. It’s always best to seek immediate treatment for heart attack symptoms – even if your symptoms turn out to be something else.
While some heart attack risk factors, such as older age, male gender and family history can’t be changed, it makes it extra important to take steps to manage other risk factors. These include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
A lesser known risk factor is exposure to radiation. We’ve found that radiation to the chest in treatment of conditions such as breast cancer or lymphoma can accelerate the development of heart disease and lead to faster plaque buildup in the arteries. People who have received radiation treatment tend to have more heart attacks even in the absence of other risk factors.
To lower your risk of having a heart attack, improve your diet and get more exercise. Doing these two things will help you gain control over many risk factors. Remember, with exercise you should start low and go slow, meaning start with lower impact activities, such as walking, for just a few minutes a day. As you get stronger you can gradually build up to more. It’s okay to feel tired and stop when needed – perhaps the next day you’ll be able to go a bit longer.
Another controllable risk factor is smoking. Smoking acts with other risk factors to greatly increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Quitting smoking provides both immediate and long-term health benefits. Find resources to help you quit at froedtert.com/smoking-cessation.
To learn more about lowering your risk for heart attack, make an appointment with a primary care physician. To find a primary care physician near you, visit your health insurance provider.