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Heart Diseases Simplified
Artery Blockage 3 Big 2 Small
Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack
Article extracted from American Heart Association
Extensive research has identified factors that increase a person’s risk of coronary heart disease in general and heart attack in particular. The more risk factors you have, and the greater the level of each risk factor, the higher your chance of developing coronary heart disease — a common term for the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to heart attack.
- Major risk factors
Research has shown that these unchangeable factors significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
- Modifiable risk factors
Some major risk factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle change.
- Contributing risk factors
These factors are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but their significance and prevalence haven’t yet been determined.
The American Heart Association recommends beginning heart disease prevention early in life, starting by assessing your risk factors and working to keep them low. The sooner you know and manage your risk factors, the better your chances of leading a heart-healthy life.
Major risk factors that can’t be changed
The risk factors on this list are ones you’re born with and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. Since you can’t do anything about these risk factors, it’s even more important for you to manage the risk factors that can be changed.
The majority of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely than men are to die from them within a few weeks.
Male Sex (Gender)
Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do, and they have attacks earlier in life. Even after menopause, when women’s death rate from heart disease increases, it’s not as great as men’s.
Heredity (Including Race)
Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can’t control your age, sex and race, you can’t control your family history. Therefore, it’s even more important to treat and control any other risk factors you have.
Major risk factors you can modify, treat or control
Smokers’ risk of developing coronary heart disease is much higher than that of nonsmokers. Cigarette smoking is a powerful independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease. Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease. Exposure to other people’s smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
High blood cholesterol
As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person’s cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity and diet. Here’s the lowdown on:
Preventing Heart Attacks
A heart attack can occur at any age. You’re never too young to start heart-healthy living. If you are over 40, or if you have multiple risk factors, work especially closely with your doctor to address your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Heart attack prevention should begin early in life. Start with an assessment of your risk factors and a plan you can follow to keep your heart attack risk low. Prevention is critical because many first-ever heart attacks are fatal or disabling.
Learn Heart-Health Basics
Reducing your risk starts with smart choices.
- If you smoke, stop. The American Heart Association has tools to help you quit.
- Work with your physician to manage your risk factors. These might include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- An active lifestyle and good nutrition have also been shown to be helpful in preventing a heart attack. See more lifestyle tips for heart attack prevention.
- Follow seven simple steps toward healthier living.
- Watch what happens when you have a heart attack, and learn how it affects your heart health.
- Think you know what’s best for your heart? Test your Heart I.Q. with one of our Healthy Heart Quizzes, including blood pressure, cholesterol, lifestyle and taking medication.