What are risk factors for a heart attack?

Early and ongoing heart disease prevention is important. At least 80 percent of deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided, according to the World Heart Federation. Many coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors are preventable and controllable, even if you or someone you love already has CHD. Common risk factors that increase the chances of having a heart attack include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Previous heart attack or stroke

Other risk factors include:

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Poor diet, including foods high in salt, fat, cholesterol, and sugar, and low in fruits and vegetables
  • Physical inactivity

The major risk factors for a heart attack (cardiac risk factors) are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and family history of premature coronary artery disease. Some of the minor risk factors include being overweight and obese, high stress levels and a sedentary lifestyle.

Classic risk factors for a heart attack: 

  • age (men over 45, women over 55)
  • smoking exposure
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • family history of heart disease (parents, siblings or grandparents) in male relatives younger than 55 or female relatives younger than 65

Emerging risk factors for a heart attack:

  • obesity
  • lack of physical activity
  • chronic inflammatory diseases (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis)

Risk factors for a heart attack include age and genetic predisposition for heart disease, which are risk factors that cannot be modified. True genetically related predisposition, found in about 10 percent of the population, needs to be distinguished from the common “family history,” indicating presence of heart disease in the family due to poor lifestyle habits such as smoking, high cholesterol diets and lack of physical activity. Most risk factors for a heart attack can be modified and controlling them would dramatically decrease the odds of having a heart attack. Modifiable risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • high cholesterol
  • low “good” HDL cholesterol
  • sedentary lifestyle (no regular physical activity)
  • heart unhealthy diet

Some risk factors for heart attack are ones you're born with and cannot be changed. Other risk factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle change. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. The following are risk factors for heart attack:

  • increasing age (males over 45, females over 55)
  • heredity and family history
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • high blood cholesterol levels
  • physical inactivity
  • obesity or being overweight

The risk factors for heart attack are the following:

  • smoking
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • family history of premature coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • age (males over 45, females over 55)

Certain factors, called coronary risk factors, increase your risk of a heart attack. These factors contribute to the unwanted buildup of deposits (atherosclerosis) narrowing arteries including those to your heart. Coronary risk factors include:

  • tobacco smoke
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • lack of physical activity
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • stress
  • alcohol
  • family history of heart attack
  • higher levels of homocysteine, C-reactive protein and fibrinogen

While reducing or eliminating risk factors can reduce your chance of having a first or a second heart attack, risk factors such as heredity and gender cannot be eliminated. Men are generally at greater risk to have a heart attack than women. For women the risk increases after menopause and usually after age 55. If your father had heart disease before age 55 or your mother before age 65, you are at greater risk for developing heart disease.

Heart attack risk increases if you engage in certain lifestyle choices like smoking and drug use. Other risk factors include low physical activity, obesity and diabetes. Heart attack risk also increases if you have high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. All of these factors contribute to the accumulation of fatty deposits, called plaques, in the inside of the coronary artery walls. Age and family history are also a risk factor. A man's risk of a heart attack increases after the age of 45 and a woman's risk increases after menopause, around 55 years of age. If a member of your family has heart disease or has had a heart attack, it also increases your risk for a heart attack.

Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

Risk factors for a heart attack are inactivity, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. It is very important to know your risk factors and discuss with your physician and develop a plan to reduce these risk factors. Lifestyle modifications and diet changes can help reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

The risk factors for a heart attack are the following:

  1. high blood pressure (hypertension)
  2. high blood cholesterol
  3. cigarette smoking
  4. diet high in trans fats
  5. lack of exercise
  6. overweight
  7. stress, when it is uncontrolled
  8. personality, high level of hostility and anger
  9. male gender and females after menopause
  10. age
  11. diabetes mellitus
  12. family history, a member who has had a heart attack
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If you have risk factors for heart attack, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or excess body weight, see your doctor, who’ll run a complete physical and may want to conduct a stress echocardiogram.

A healthy diet and regular exercise program can play an enormous role in reducing your heart attack risk.

Risk factors for heart attack include age (over 45 years old in men and over 55 years old in women), smoking, hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, family history, obesity, drug use and a sedentary lifestyle.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.