Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack

Updated:Sep 16,2016

Prevention means a second chance

Knowledge is power, so get a handle on the risks you face right away. 

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.

  1. Major risk factors
    Research has shown that these unchangeable factors significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
  2. Modifiable risk factors
    Some major risk factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle change. 
  3. 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.

Learn more about common risk factors and access information about how you can manage modifiable risk factors below.

Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease

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.

Increasing Age
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.

Preventing Heart Attacks

Too young?
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.

This content was last reviewed June 2016.

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