heart attack

A myocardial infarction, which is commonly referred to as a heart attack, is a life-threatening event that can happen to anyone. It is typically associated with some form of underlying heart disease that disrupts the flow of blood to the heart. Heart disease can also be the culprit in other deadly conditions such as stroke. In the US, approximately 400,000 people die annually from coronary heart disease and related problems.

The symptoms of a myocardial infarction include, but are not limited to, epigastralgia, which is an oppressive pain in the upper abdomen, pain in the left arm, jaw, and back. Shortness of breath, profuse sweating and feeling of “dying” are also very common.

Can Heart Disease be Prevented?

Heart disease and heart attack can be prevented or delayed. In order to do this, we must know the risk factors so that we can recognize them and take preventive steps to correct them.

Risk Factors for a Heart Attack

Everyone should take steps to prevent heart disease. However, certain people are at a greater risk than others. Risk factors for heart attack and stroke depend on one's lifestyle, habits, and health conditions. For example, obesity increases the risk of a heart attack. People who are obese often develop conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Both of these conditions can cause heart problems. Being overweight or obese can lead to coronary heart disease even if diabetes or high blood pressure are not present. Lifestyle habits can also affect your heart. Smoking, for example, can damage arteries, elevate blood pressure, limit the amount of oxygen delivered to body tissues, and increase the risk of blood clots.

Lack of exercise or physical activity and a poor diet can contribute to heart disease. People who eat unhealthy foods may have elevated cholesterol levels that can lead to heart and vessel problems. Physical activity can counter the ill effects of other conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Other risk factors for a heart attack include age, a family history of heart disease, and stress. Regarding age, men 45 years or older and women who are older than 55 are at the greatest risk. The risk is also increased if a family member such as a parent, grandparent, or a sibling has had a heart attack. Excessive stress, and how a person's body responds to it, is another factor.

Steps to Eliminate Risk Factors

Recognizing the risk factors for heart disease is half the battle when it comes to avoiding a heart attack. The next thing to do, is to take steps to eliminate those risk factors. Since many of the risk factors stem from how people live their lives, they must be willing to make some significant lifestyle changes. For example, quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, losing weight, and eating heart-healthy foods. A healthy diet consists of vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, fruits, nuts, and beans. In addition to watching what one eats, a person should contact their healthcare provider to discuss an effective weight loss plan. Exercise, even half an hour of walking, should become a part of one’s daily routine. Reducing the amount of stress in life is also an important change to make, but not always an easy or doable one. Even if people are unable to resolve all issues that cause stress in their lives, they should learn methods to better cope with it.

The greater the number of risk factors an individual has, the greater their chances of having a heart attack. This makes it crucial that these factors are promptly identified and managed. Regular checkups with a medical professional are important in detecting and controlling such risk factors. Checkups can also reveal any underlying conditions that are otherwise not symptomatic yet. Any such conditions should be treated accordingly.

A heart attack is a critical event and just the thought of having one can be quite frightening. Fortunately, there are ways that people can lower or eliminate their risk of ever suffering one. The first step is to recognize what risk factors are associated with heart disease and heart attack. If you believe you are in a high risk group, making the necessary lifestyle changes can enable you to live a long and heart-healthy life.

See also our page on heart disease in women for further discussion of dealing with attacks.

See also our light-hearted heart attack quiz -- can you tell the difference between a real heart attack and a fake? (Warning, adult language)