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Heart Attack Risk Factors and Prevention

Your heart is the hardest working muscle in your body, and if stressed by a heart attack, it can be damaged. It’s important to understand the controllable and uncontrollable risk factors of a heart attack for yourself and your family members. At Banner Health, we’re dedicated to providing our patients with comprehensive heart care and can answer any questions you may have about heart attack risk factors and prevention.

Heart attack risk factors can differ between men and women but there are also many risk factors that apply to both genders.

Risk Factors for Heart Attack – Men

Men aged 45 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than younger men or women.

Risk Factors for Heart Attack – Women

Typically, women aged 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than younger women.

One other factor that may affect a woman’s risk for heart attack include:

History of Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia causes high blood pressure during pregnancy. This condition increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.

Major Heart Attack Risk Factors

While some heart attack risk factors, such as family history, are uncontrollable, most can be modified, treated, or controlled. Risk factors that can be controlled include:


Smokers run a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease than nonsmokers. Exposure to secondhand smoke also increases the risk of heart disease. Habitual smoking can cause sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart diseases. Cigarette smoking also interacts with other risk factors and can greatly increase the risk for coronary heart diseases.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can damage the arteries that feed your heart. High blood pressure works in conjunction with other conditions, including obesity, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

High Cholesterol or Triglyceride Levels

A high level of lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, also known as the “bad” cholesterol) can narrow your arteries. Triglycerides are a type of blood fat related to your diet. A high level of triglycerides also increases your risk of a heart attack.


Diabetes highly increases your risk of developing heart disease, even when glucose levels are under control. The risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well-controlled.


People with excess body fat are more likely to develop heart issues or have a stroke, even without other risk factors. If you are considered obese, losing 3 to 10 percent of your body weight may lead to significant reductions in some risk factors, including lowered blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome happens when you are obese, have high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Having metabolic syndrome can make you twice as likely to develop heart disease than if you don’t have it.

Lack of Physical Activity

Having an inactive lifestyle can greatly increase your risk of coronary heart disease. Exercising regularly improves cardiovascular fitness and can help lower blood pressure, thereby lowering your risk for heart disease.

Other Risk Factors

Illicit Drug Use

Using stimulant drugs, like cocaine or amphetamines, can trigger coronary artery spasms that can cause a heart attack.


How you react to stress can increase your risk of a heart attack. For example, people under stress may overeat or smoke more than they otherwise would, causing an increased risk for coronary heart disease.

Autoimmune Condition

Conditions including rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase your risk of a heart attack.

Diet and Nutrition

A healthy diet can be an effective tool against heart disease as diet can affect other controllable risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.


Alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk for an irregular heartbeat or heart attack. 

How to Prevent a Heart Attack

You’re never too old, young, or healthy to make changes in order to prevent a heart attack, especially if you’ve already had one. Heart attack prevention is critical and should start early in life as a first heart attack can be disabling or even fatal. The experts at Banner Health can work closely with you to develop a plan to lower your risk of developing heart disease.

You can reduce your risk by making smart choices and changing your lifestyle. Maintaining a diet full of heart-healthy foods, not smoking, exercising regularly, and managing your stress can all help reduce your risk of a heart attack. 

If you’ve already experienced a heart attack, there are medications, such as aspirin, that can reduce your risk of a subsequent heart attack and help your heart function better. Talk with your doctor about your health history and ask if low-dose aspirin is right for you. 

Make sure your heart is healthy by getting regular checkups and talking to your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding the risk factors for a heart attack.