8 Heart Attack Risk Factors

The National Heart Foundation believes as many as 3000 lives might be saved each year if symptoms of heart attack were recognized and the victim taken to hospital more quickly. Symptoms on which either the sufferer or anyone with him should act, together with advice on what to do:

SYMPTOMS: Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, behind the breastbone, lasting for more than five minutes. The pain may spread to the shoulder, arm, throat or jaw. Sudden collapse may also indicate a heart attack.

WHAT TO DO: Get to the nearest major hospital – by ambulance, if immediately available: by car if not. The decision to act should not be left to the patient. It is the responsibility of those nearby – wife, husband, relative, friend or bystander. Treat it as a heart attack – there’s no harm done if you’re wrong.

If the patient is unconscious, call for help from an ambulance or doctor. Start resuscitation procedures if you have been trained.

The good news is that the death rate from heart attacks is going down. The major reason is that more people are learning how to recognize a heart attack and act promptly to save lives. Another reason is greater awareness of heart disease risk factors – smoking, high blood pressure, lack of regular exercise, and the wrong diet.

The bad news is that not enough people are acting quickly when heart attack strikes and many thousands are still dying unnecessarily. It is vital for all people to learn the symptoms of heart attack.

Don’t let heart disease claim you or someone near to you. Minimize the risks, recognize the signs and know how to get help quickly.

1. High blood fats

Cholesterol, the most important of the blood fats, clogs the arteries. A 35-year-old man with no other serious risk factors and a blood cholesterol level of 8.6 mmol/l (that is 335 mg per 100 ml of blood) has eight times the risk of heart attack compared with a man with a cholesterol level of 4.8 mmol/l (185 mg per 100 ml of blood). Your doctor can arrange for a blood test to show your cholesterol level.

If you want to reduce blood fats you must do four things:

  • Cut your total calorie intake. Cut down on the amount of fat you eat (meat fat, butter, margarine, etc).
  • Change the relationship of the fats you do eat, so that you eat less saturated fats (mostly of animal origin) and more polyunsaturated fats (mostly of vegetable origin).
  • Eat fewer foods which are high in cholesterol, such as egg yolk, organ meats (particularly brains), dairy foods and some shellfish (particularly prawns and crab).

2. High blood pressure

Hypertension is a strong risk factor at all ages for heart attack and for strokes, the latter particularly because it puts a strain on the fine blood vessels of the brain. One in six adults have permanently high blood pressure. An annual medical checkup is good sense, including measurement of blood pressure and blood fats.

3. Cigarette smoking

Apart from the effects on the lungs, cigarette smoking also damages the heart. Smoking speeds up the heart beat, makes the heart more unstable and raises blood pressure. Carbon monoxide produced cuts down the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to the heart and other parts of the body. As a result, the smoker is more prone to heart attack and sudden death.

4. Obesity (overweight)

Obesity can raise blood pressure and blood fat levels. People who are 30 percent or more over the recommended weight for their age, height and sex may run twice the risk of a heart attack compared with people of normal weight.

Extra weight puts an additional strain on the entire cardiovascular system. It’s not only the weight on the outside. Just as you build up fat in places you can see, you also build it up around internal organs. You’re asking your heart to pump blood through an additional few hundred kilometers of blood vessels.

To lose weight cut down on calories. Foods with high calorie content include sugar, bread, biscuits, cakes, fried foods, starchy vegetables, butter, margarine, peanut butter, soft drinks, chocolate, fatty meats such as pork, and vegetable oils.

Foods which are low in calories include fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, unsweetened fruit juices. Weight reduction courses with detailed calorie charts are widely available through Weight Watchers and community health services.

See: Cardiac Diet Guidelines For Your Heart

5. Lack of exercise

Lack of physical activity can have a direct effect on weight, blood pressure and blood fat content. Regular exercise lessens your chances of sudden death and increases your chances of survival if you have a heart attack.

Physical exercise should be moderate and regular to build up your fitness level gradually rather than putting a sudden strain on an unfit system. If you are unfit, a heavy smoker, overweight, with high blood pressure and you suddenly have to run for the bus, you could have a heart attack.

The sedentary office worker with a number of risk factors who gets a guilty conscience about being unfit and plays an hour of hard squash once a week is taking his life in his hands.

The best kinds of exercise are those which use large muscle groups – jogging, swimming, cycling, and most ball games. Three or four sessions a week for about 20 minutes at a time will keep you at a reasonable level of fitness. Any exercise which makes you puff and pant (but not too much) is good.

Everyone connects the image of the overworked executive with heart attack and often stress is held to be a contributing factor. Yet stress is difficult to measure and everyone has his or her own stress tolerance level. Whilst it cannot be proved that stress in itself contributes to heart disease, it can be said that stress often causes us to smoke, eat and drink more and to exercise less.

6. Age

Risk of all forms of heart disease increases with age. Men aged 60 have almost five times the risk of developing heart disease compared with men aged 40.

7. Sex

Men appear to be more susceptible to heart attacks than women. The male rate is about equal to that of women 10 years older. But this pattern is changing as women experience the results of adopting similar lifestyles to men.

8. Heredity

The risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) is approximately doubled if one first-degree relative (parent, brother or sister) has died from CHD above the age of 55, and approximately five times greater if one first-degree relative has died from CHD younger than 55.

Whilst there is nothing you can do about the above three risk factors, at least they act as a warning and you CAN do something about the avoidable risk factors.

Don’t underestimate the importance of heart attack symptoms. ANYONE, whatever their age, who gets a pain in the center of the chest which doesn’t go away within five minutes should go at once to hospital for a coronary checkup. It may be only indigestion, but isn’t it better to be embarrassed than dead?

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