A heart attack is something that can be avoided by having a healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle. The major threat towards heart health is the narrowing and blockage of the arteries, which is caused by cholesterol deposits attached to the artery walls.
Heart Attack: Types of risk factors
Generally speaking, there are three types of factors that can contribute to a heart attack:
- Risk factors that are almost certain to lead to coronary artery disease, thus very likely to cause a heart attack as well.
- Risk factors that you can control or treat, thus making it easier to prevent a heart attack.
- Then, there are risk factors that can contribute to a heart attack, but it's not exactly clear how high the risk is.
Heart attack: Uncontrollable risk factors
A few of the factors that contribute to heart attacks can’t be controlled. They include:
- Age is one of the risk factors. Women above the age of 65 and men above the age of 55 are more likely to have a heart attack compared to younger people.
- Biological sex can also contribute to a heart attack. Men are more likely to have a heart attack at a younger age. However, older women who have a heart attack are at a greater risk of passing away in a few weeks.
- Race is another contributing factor. African Americans have higher blood pressure compared to Caucasians, which means they are also more likely to end up with tissue damage in their coronary arteries. Since diabetes is another risk factor, Asian-Americans, Hawaiians, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans are also more likely to have a heart attack.
- Heart attacks can also have a hereditary nature. Children with parents who have heart disease are prone to have such a heart condition themselves.
Modifiable risk factors: Heart attack risks you can do something about
Most of the risk factors for a heart attack have to do with a person’s dietary choices and physical activities. Thankfully, these can be controlled:
- Hypertension is characterized by high blood pressure, the force that blood exerts as it passes through the arteries. When this force is more intense, it damages the coronary arteries, but it also causes the heart to overload, making its muscles thicker. This, in turn, can lead to a heart attack, since weaker inner artery linings pave the way for cholesterol deposits to settle in with ease, creating plaques, and eventually blood clots.
- High cholesterol is a major contributor to coronary artery disease. Since cholesterol is already made by your body, the excess that you get from food is very likely to attach to the artery walls. As this happens, you can end up with blood clots in the vessels, blocking blood inside and preventing it from reaching the heart. Cholesterol is made from three major components, all of which play an important part in heart health status: bad cholesterol needs to be minimized and good cholesterol can help the liver get rid of bad cholesterol, so you should have as much of it as possible, while triglycerides are a type of fat that also leads to atherosclerosis, so the count should be as low as possible.
- Obesity means that the body has excess fat, and excess fat is a sign of high cholesterol. Obese people are more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack.
- A lack of physical activity is a risk factor for coronary artery disease. By exercising at least 30 minutes every day, you can greatly reduce the odds of having heart problems, plus it helps you get rid of any extra pounds, thus eliminating another risk factor — obesity.
- People who have diabetes are prone to developing heart problems as well; 68 percent of people above the age of 65 and have diabetes are at risk of dying from of heart disease.
Contributing risk factors: What else can lead to a heart attack?
Emotional factors can affect a person’s physical health, too, and stress and anxiety are some examples. Research on how emotional health can affect the risk of developing cardiovascular disease is still going.
Stress, for example, can impact your health in many different ways:
- When you’re feeling stressed, you are more likely to neglect your health. Your immune system is weaker and finds it harder to fight off bacteria and viruses, making it more likely for you to get sick.
- Stress causes blood pressure to rise, and hypertension is an important risk factor that contributes to a potential heart attack.
- Some people who feel stressed have the tendency to overeat and are therefore more likely to become obese or consume more fat and calories than needed.
- Smokers that feel stressed are likely to smoke, even more, thus increasing their risk of damaging their coronary arteries.
Another contributing factor for a heart attack is alcohol. While studies have shown that a glass of alcohol per day is actually recommended (because it helps people relax and sleep better), anything above that can also trigger multiple other problems:
- Alcohol raises blood pressure, which means that your blood vessels are exposed to cholesterol build-up.
- Depending on the type of alcohol that you consume, you are also more likely to become obese.
- Sometimes, alcohol can cause insomnia or decreases the quality of a person’s sleep, which is very important in your overall health status.
- Alcohol can also trigger a series of negative emotions, thus contributing to stress instead of inducing relaxation.