Who is at risk of a heart attack?

Marty Denny, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The risk factors for heart attack include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, male gender and a family history of heart disease in a first-degree male relative younger than 55 and/or a female relative younger than 65. Some of those risk factors are reversible, including tobacco use, controlling your high blood pressure and treating your high cholesterol, but some cannot be changed (family history of premature heart disease and gender). And though diabetes treatment has been controversial, the newest studies with some of the newer agents have shown that using certain diabetic medicines may lower your risk for heart attack.
Lee B. Taylor III., MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Traditional well-validated risk factors for a heart attack include older age, male sex, family history of heart artery disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, and tobacco abuse.  All but the first three risk factors listed are modifiable with either a healthy lifestyle and/or medication.
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Every year in the United States, 1.5 million individuals experience a heart attack. Heart disease (including heart attacks) is the leading cause of death for both men and women. The risk for men increases past the age of 45 and for women after menopause, past the age of 55. It is also common among all ethnic backgrounds.
There are many things that can increase a person’s risk for a heart attack. Some of the risk factors are under your control. Risk factors that are within your control include smoking, lack of physical activity, obesity, illegal drug use, excessive alcohol use, and a stressful lifestyle. There are also specific diseases that increase the risk of a heart attack including high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and high cholesterol. Your doctor may be able to help you control these diseases with lifestyle modification or medication. Then there are risk factors that are out of your control such as age (45 or older if you are male, 55 and older if you are a female) and family history.

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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.