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Most People are Getting Heart Attacks This Way, Experts Say

Doctor reveals what the four main causes of heart attacks are.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and every year 805,000 people have a heart attack–that's one person every 40 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are many reasons why people have a heart attack, but Dr. Jeffrey Dlott, Medical Director, QuestDirect explains to Eat This, Not That! Health, what the main causes are and how to help prevent a heart attack. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs COVID is Hurting You—Even After a Negative Test.


Lack of Exercise

A woman in her 40s wearing headphones and eating popcorn while watching a movie on a streaming service on a laptop at night.

Dr. Dlott states, "Not getting enough exercise can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries causing them to clog which can lead to a heart attack. The good news is regular physical activity can lower your risk of having a heart attack. It is recommended by the AHA and the CDC  to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity each week."

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"A history of smoking can increase one's risk of suffering from a heart attack," Dr. Dlott says. "Smoking affects the heart in several negative ways. When you smoke blood thickens in the arteries making it harder for blood to move through arteries and other blood vessels to get to the heart. This can cause blood clots which can lead to a heart attack. The best way to try and decrease your risk is to quit smoking and start focusing on improving your heart health."

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High Cholesterol

high cholesterol

According to Dr. Dlott, "Having high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (AKA LDL or Bad Cholesterol) can lead to plaque buildup which can block blood flow to your heart, potentially leading to a heart attack. A Cholesterol Test Panel can help evaluate the health of your heart and arteries and the results can be an important part of evaluating your overall health. The panel measures lipids: LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglycerides (the fat in blood). High lipid levels usually have no symptoms, and some people can have high lipid levels for years without knowing it."

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High Blood Pressure

blood pressure

Dr. Dlott says, "High blood pressure (pressure higher than 120/80 mmHg) can also increase your risk. Often referred to as hypertension, this health issue can decrease the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart, which can lead to a heart attack. Making lifestyle changes like managing stress, increased exercise, and a healthy diet can help lower your risk of high blood pressure and experiencing a heart attack."

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Why Heart Attacks Happen

Doctor points on a human heart model

According to Dr. Dlott, "Many believe that the main cause of a heart attack or stroke is the buildup of fatty plaque within an artery leading to the heart or brain. With time, the plaque buildup narrows the artery so much that the artery would either close or become clogged. The lack of oxygen-rich blood to the heart would then lead to a heart attack. However, these types of blockages only cause a minority of heart attacks. Researchers now believe inflammation can lead to heart attacks by causing the development of 'soft' or vulnerable plaque. When this inflammation is combined with other factors such as high blood pressure, it can cause a thin covering over the plaque to crack and bleed, which spills the contents of the vulnerable plaque into the bloodstream. The cytokines on the artery wall capture blood cells that rush to the site of this cracking and bleeding. When these cells clump together, they can form a clot large enough to block the artery."

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Who is at Risk of a Heart Attack?

Asian Businessman standing near the window and having chest pain.

Dr. Dlott says, "There are several factors that can increase your risk of heart attack. Men are at a greater risk of having a heart attack than women. Men aged 45 and up, and women aged 55 and up are more at risk. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of tobacco use, physical inactivity/obesity, and a family history of heart attacks can also increase your risk." 

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Signs of a Heart Attack

Man with shoulder pain

"According to the CDC, signs of a heart attack include chest pain, feeling faint, pain in the jaw, neck or back, pain in one or both arms or shoulders, and shortness of breath," Dr. Dlott states. "It is important to call 911 immediately if you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else."  

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How to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

General practitioner and her aged patient talking about heart diseases

Dr. Dlott explains, "A first step to potentially prevent a heart attack is to identify your risk factors and understand your overall health profile so that management and preventative measures can begin as soon as possible. An easy way to see if you are at risk and get to know your health profile is a test like QuestDirect's Comprehensive Health Profile. This can provide any easy-to-follow snapshot of your heart health to guide you on next steps." And to live your healthiest life, don't miss these I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer.

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
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