Heart attack risk factors you can and can’t control

A heart attack happens when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked and the heart can’t get oxygen.

If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, the section of the heart muscle begins to die.

Heart attack treatment works best when it’s given right after symptoms occur. If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, even if you’re not sure, call 9–1–1 right away.

Certain risk factors make it more likely that you’ll develop ischemic heart disease and have a heart attack. You can control many of these risk factors.

Risk Factors You Can Control

The major risk factors for a heart attack that you can control include:


High blood pressure

High blood cholesterol

Overweight and obesity

An unhealthy diet (for example, a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium)

Lack of routine physical activity

High blood sugar due to insulin resistance or diabetes

Some of these risk factors—such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar—tend to occur together. When they do, it’s called metabolic syndrome.

In general, a person who has metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes as someone who doesn’t have metabolic syndrome.

For more information about the risk factors that are part of metabolic syndrome, go to the Health Topics Metabolic Syndrome article.

Risk Factors You Can’t Control

Risk factors that you can’t control include:

Age. The risk of heart disease increases for men after age 45 and for women after age 55 (or after menopause).

Family history of early heart disease. Your risk increases if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age, or if your mother or a sister was diagnosed with heart disease before 65 years of age.

Preeclampsia. This condition can develop during pregnancy. The two main signs of preeclampsia are a rise in blood pressure and excess protein in the urine.

Preeclampsia is linked to an increased lifetime risk of heart disease, including heart attack, heart failure, and high blood pressure.


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