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This One Factor Can Predict a Heart Attack, Says MD

Six factors that increase the risk of a heart attack. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart attacks seem like they happen out of nowhere, but oftentimes there are warning signs that were missed. Nobody thinks they're going to have a heart attack, but every 40 seconds someone in the United States has one. That said, there are certain factors that can help predict who is at risk and knowing what they are can be life-saving. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who shares factors that can predict a heart attack. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Exactly is a Heart Attack

closeup man's chest heart attack

Dr. Mitchell says, "A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. This can happen if the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed or blocked by plaque buildup. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, and other substances found in the blood. When plaque builds up, it makes it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. A blood clot can form if a plaque ruptures that completely blocks the artery. This can cause a heart attack. Heart attacks are a leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack is essential so you can get treatment immediately. Warning signs of a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats. If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately and get to a hospital immediately. Time is critical! The faster you get medical care, the better."


High Blood Pressure

man having blood pressure checked
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

Dr. Mitchell shares, "High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attacks because it puts extra strain on the heart. The heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body when the blood pressure is high, which can lead to plaque in the arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, and other substances and can narrow or block the arteries. This can reduce the amount of blood that flows to the heart and cause a heart attack. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for strokes, which occur when a blood clot blocks an artery leading to the brain. Strokes can cause permanent damage to the brain and even death. Therefore, it is essential to keep your blood pressure under control to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke."



no smoking sign

"Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease, " Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "It damages the lining of your arteries, making them more likely to become blocked. It also raises your blood pressure and heart rate, putting extra strain on your heart. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, which means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. Nicotine in cigarettes also causes a short-term increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, this can damage the structure and function of your heart and lead to atherosclerosis – a build-up of plaque in your arteries. All of these factors increase your risk of having a heart attack. If you smoke and have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, your risk is even higher. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. It will help to reduce your risk of having a heart attack and other smoking-related diseases."



Young diabetic woman checking her blood sugar levels.

Dr. Mitchell explains. "Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body's ability to process sugar. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the nerves and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease. Heart attacks occur when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, preventing blood from flowing to the heart muscle. Diabetes is a significant risk factor for heart attacks because it can damage the arteries and promote the formation of blood clots. In addition, diabetes can make it more difficult for the body to heal after an injury. As a result, people with diabetes are more likely to experience a heart attack after even a minor injury. Therefore, it is essential for people with diabetes to take steps to protect their heart health."



Female doctor measuring waist of overweight woman with measuring tape in clinic

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Obesity is a significant risk factor for heart disease. The more overweight you are, the greater your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes – all risk factors for heart disease. Obesity also increases your chances of developing coronary heart disease, where fatty deposits build up in your arteries and reduce blood flow to your heart. In addition, obesity can lead to an enlarged heart, which makes it difficult for the organ to pump blood efficiently. As a result, obese individuals have a significantly higher risk of heart attack. While there are many factors that contribute to obesity, such as diet and genes, lifestyle choices play the most significant role in preventing the condition. By making healthy choices and maintaining a healthy weight, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing obesity and any associated health complications."


Family History Of Heart Disease

man has a dizzy spell or a heart attack. Woman comes to the rescue

Dr. Mitchell says, "A family history of heart disease is a risk factor for a heart attack because it indicates that genetic factors may be at play. Heart disease runs in families often because of shared lifestyle and environmental factors, such as diet and exercise habits. However, there may also be underlying genetic factors that make some people more susceptible to heart disease. Additionally, family history is a valuable indicator of risk because it can help to identify people who may benefit from lifestyle changes or closer monitoring. While a family history of heart disease does not guarantee that someone will have a heart attack, it is essential to be aware of the potential risks."



man experiencing high stress doing work, panic attack

Dr. Mitchell states, "Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of life. It can help you stay focused, energized, and alert. But when it's constant or overwhelming, stress affects your health. Prolonged stress can lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Stress can also contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. When you're stressed, your body is in a state of fight-or-flight. This triggers a surge of hormones that increases your heart rate and raises your blood pressure. The long-term effects of this can damage your arteries and lead to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Plaque narrows your arteries and makes it harder for blood to flow through them. For example, if a piece of plaque breaks off and blocks an artery, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. You can't avoid all stress in your life, but you can manage it healthily. To do this, you need to identify the sources of your stress and find healthy ways to cope with them. There are many effective stress management techniques, including exercise, relaxation exercises, and journaling."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather