Heart attack and who are at risk

Heart Attack or myocardial infarction (MI) is very common in humans today. It may cause death or permanent complication to human health. And the percentage of people suffering from a heart attack is increasing. Several factors may work parallel to carry a risk of heart attack and we will discuss it here the risk factors here. By identifying the risk factors, you can measure your position at risk of heart attack and able to take some steps towards prevention. Here we are discussing the risk factors of a heart attack.

An estimated 17.5 million people died from Cardiovascular Diseases in 2012, representing 31% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.4 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.7 million were due to stroke. Reference –WHO

What is a heart attack?

In most cases, a heart attack is sudden and didn’t have any warning and it is a condition when oxygen-rich blood to the heart is blocked. The heart is also an organ and needs oxygen, water, and other nutrients for its function. And that oxygen-rich blood along with other nutrients is supplied to the heart tissue through the coronary artery.

Atherosclerosis is a common condition that affects the blood flow through blood vessels i.e. artery. Atherosclerosis is the process of the build-up of waxy plaque( Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood) in the artery wall, making the artery narrow and hard. This accumulations or plaque formation narrows the arteries by thickening the artery wall, making it harder for blood to flow through. When plaque area can break open inside of an artery wall during blood flow, causing a blood clot to form over the rupture further leads to interruption of blood flow. If the plaque and blood clot are large enough, it can stop the oxygen-rich blood flow through the artery (coronary) to the heart causing heart tissue to die in that area leading to a heart attack. (1)

Figure A is an overview of a heart and coronary artery showing damage (dead heart muscle) caused by a heart attack. Figure B is a cross-section of the coronary artery with plaque buildup and a blood clot. Courtesy-National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Warning signs of a heart attack:

chest discomfort, uncomfortable pressure, pain, discomfort or pain in other areas like one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach, and other symptoms such as shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness. (2)

Risk factors of heart attack

The root cause of heart attack is under debate. Unfavorable high blood cholesterol may be a symptom and risk factor of coronary artery disease, but not the root cause, it may be a sign of the body is not functioning properly. Atherosclerosis is resulted from chronic inflammation-confirmed by recent research. Inflammation is the body’s natural defense to foreign invaders but chronic inflammation creates problems. (3 4) The development of cardiovascular diseases is extremely complex and multifactorial. (5) Certain factors may carry risk or work parallel in heart disease but the list may not be exhaustive.

Stress/Psychological factors: 

Today people are at a higher level of stress with no time, have more workload, do multitasking, suffer depression, anxiety with technological improvement. Having a higher stress level for a longer period and depression poses a major threat to human health including coronary heart disease or heart attack. Researchers found that psychological factors including depression, anxiety, and stress are independent risk factors for coronary heart disease or protective factors. They also suggest that due to the increased number of coronary heart disease in recent years it is necessary to pay more attention to psychological factors and preventive actions. (6) (7)

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension):

Uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to several complications. High blood pressure forces the heart to continuously work harder than necessary in order to pump blood, which can damage the inner lining of an artery leading to Coronary artery disease, which further contributes to a higher risk of heart attack, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death. (8) Damage artery is more prone to oxidation and accumulation of fatty and other substances.


Over time People with high blood sugar due to diabetes are more prone to developing several diseases and medical complications, which may further put health at a higher risk of a heart attack.

Smoking or second-hand smoke:

Smoking causes damage to the artery by thickening the wall and narrowing blood vessels. It also causes a blood clot to form which further may lead to blockage of blood flow. Second smoking is more chemically reactive and caused more damage.  Apart from these smoking has many health negative effects.

Higher blood cholesterol level:

The link between cholesterol and heart attack is a subject under debate. However uncontrolled blood cholesterol level may carry risk. Research indicates that oxidized LDL, but not native LDL, promotes vascular dysfunction.(9)

Unhealthy diet:

Lifestyle with poor eating habit with consuming more processed and refined food, food with trans fat, chemicals, toxins, added sugar, consuming excessive alcohol may contribute to inflammation and other complications such as high blood pressure, obesity, elevated blood sugar level, etc which may further contribute to a heart attack. (10)


Obesity and overweight is an increasingly serious concern caused by elevated body fat amount. Higher body fat may further lead to medical complications like atherosclerosis, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, etc putting you at risk. Body Mass Index is the calculator of overweight or obesity. It calculates your body weight in relation to your body height. You can check your body mass index (BMI) here in NIH calculator

Physical Inactivity:

Physical inactivity may further lead to obesity, body fat accumulation, and many other health-related complications.


Men with the age of more than 45 years and women with age more than 55 old are at higher risk than the younger ones. However, people of younger age may also suffer a heart attack.

Genetic or Family History:

Someone having a family history of heart attack, they are at a higher possibility of having a heart attack than a normal one. Definitely, a healthy lifestyle and physical activeness also help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, you should also consult with a healthcare professional if you have a family history of a heart attack.


Developing high blood pressure during pregnancy time, putting a higher risk of a heart attack. (11)  In suchsituation, you should consult with your health care provider.

Here I am trying to give some idea about heart attack and risk factors of a heart attack. You can also read how to lower the risk of a heart attack.

Source and references:
  1. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/heartattack/causes
  2. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSigns
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22390643
  4. https://www.sott.net/article/242516-Heart-surgeon-speaks-out-on-
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751443
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4800172/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3653260/
  8. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11238802
  10. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141028145439.htm
  11. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-attack
Bikramjit Konwar

Author: Bikramjit Konwar


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