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7 Risk Factors for Heart Attacks

Keep your heart strong and avoid heart attacks by taking control of your health and managing your risk factors.

7 Risk Factors for Heart Attacks

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, as well as your risk factors, can help you take the necessary precautions to avoid one.

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood flow to the heart becomes blocked. This blockage is most often caused by plaque that builds up on the walls of the coronary arteries over the years, and it deprives the heart of blood and oxygen. If blood flow is not restored within 40 to 60 minutes, the heart muscle will die, resulting in acute heart failure or even death.

So what are some controllable risk factors associated with heart attacks?

Cholesterol
A 240 mg/dl or higher level for total cholesterol as well as an HDL (good) cholesterol level of less than 40 mg/dl (men) or 50 mg/dl (women) put you at risk for having a heart attack. A healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins can keep your heart healthy.

Diabetes
This chronic illness that affects the way the body processes blood sugar increases the risk of heart disease even when glucose levels are under control.

Excess Body Weight
People who have excess body fat are more likely to have heart disease, even if they don’t have other risk factors. Talk with your doctor to determine a healthy weight for you and to develop a diet and exercise plan to help you reach your goal.

Physical Inactivity
Exercise is central to a healthier heart. Staying active can help control cholesterol levels, diabetes and obesity, which will ultimately lessen your risk for heart attacks.

Tobacco Use
Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and severely damages your heart and lungs.

Blood Pressure
Borderline high blood pressure (pre-hypertension) levels are 120-139/80-89. If your levels are in this range, make an appointment with your primary care physician within three months to check them again and to discuss ways to reduce your blood pressure. People with pre-hypertension are at risk for going on to develop hypertension.

Hypertension
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a medical condition where the flow of blood against the artery walls is too high. If your blood pressure levels are 140-199/90-109, then you will be diagnosed with hypertension, which increases your risk for heart attacks. Consult your primary care physician during a follow-up appointment within two to four weeks of diagnosis to monitor your levels.

Now that you can identify some controllable risk factors for heart attacks, put a healthy heart plan into action. It could save your life.

Dr. M. Santambrosio, FACEP, FAAEM, is the past chief of staff and current medical director for Florida Hospital East Orlando.

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