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The #1 Cause of Heart Attack, Says Science

Cardiologist reveals main causes of heart attacks and how to help prevent one. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States for men and women, and every 40 seconds someone has a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although genetics do play a role, poor lifestyle choices drastically increase the chance of a heart attack. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr.Sam Kalioundji, Cardiologist with Dignity Health Northridge Hospital and KAL HEART who explained causes of a heart attack and how to help prevent one. As always, please consult with your physician for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Why Heart Attacks Are So Common

closeup man's chest heart attack

Dr. Kalioundji says, "Heart attacks have become common secondary to the rise in severity and frequency of risk factors.  Diabetes, obesity, hypertension/elevated blood pressure, poorly controlled cholesterol, poor eating habits, physical inactivity, increased stress have all contributed to a rise in the number of heart attacks affecting younger and patients.  These risk factors have substantially increased in severity in conjunction with poor medical follow-up with recent COVID."


Who is at Risk for a Heart Attack

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

Dr. Kalioundji lists the following risk factors"

  • "Overweight/obesity
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Poor eating habits
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increase stress
  • Decreased physical activity/inactivity
  • Genetic predisposition/family history
  • Heavy drug or alcohol use
  • Tobacco abuse"


Man and woman holding their bellies while sitting on the bed suffering from extra weight.

Dr. Kalioundji says, "Our Heartbeats an average of 60-80,000 times per day, increased body weight causes undue stress on the heart muscle that can affect the heart's ability to properly pump blood to the vital organs."


Tobacco Abuse/Polysubstance Abuse/Drug Abuse

no smoking sign

"Release of inflammatory processes that can cause rupture of plaque that can lead to complete obstruction or blockage of the artery that feeds the heart," states Dr. Kalioundji. 


High Cholesterol

closeup doctor's hand holding blood sample for cholesterol

Dr. Kalioundji shares, "Buildup of plaque in the arteries level leading to a gradual narrowing over time causing decreased blood flow and significant stenosis in the coronary arteries."


Diabetes/Poorly Controlled Blood Sugar

Diabetic woman taking blood sample with lancet pen at home.

Dr. Kalioundji explains, "Plaque buildup over time with calcification of the arteries leading to decreased lumen size and microvascular damage."


When to Seek Medical Treatment


Dr. Kalioundji says, "If symptoms of chest pressure/shortness of breath or atypical symptoms like back or shoulder pain/neck pain/dental pain with fatigue and severe weakness with dizziness occur, rapid evaluation at urgent care or emergency room is preferred as soon as possible.  Delays in care during a heart attack can cause significant damage/death to the heart leading to heart failure and poor survival and outcomes."


Heart Health and Regular Check Ups are Important

doctor holding heart

Dr. Kalioundji reminds us that, "Frequent management and checking for risk factors including follow-up with weight management, blood pressure checks and control, blood glucose/diabetes evaluation, healthy eating habits, physical activity of 30 to 40 minutes/day, reduction of stress, cholesterol level checks, awareness of family history and genetics will help reduce the risk and prevent heart attacks."

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