Reducing Your Risk of Heart Attack
by Debra Wood, RN
There are a variety of issues that can increase the risk of having a heart attack. Fortunately, many of the risk factors can be avoided or managed. The more factors you control, the more you reduce your risk of a heart attack.
Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about a plan to lose weight. Adopt a sensible eating plan and exercise regularly. Plan to lose weight gradually to help you maintain your weight at the desired level. Consider consulting with a dietitian, who can help you with meal planning and portion sizes.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis. Over time, the buildup can affect the heart muscle's ability to get sufficient oxygen, which may result in a heart attack.
Quitting smoking is the best way to put yourself on the right track. Talk with your doctor about tools and programs to help you quit. Secondhand smoke can be damaging as well, so try to avoid that when possible.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Excess alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, which can lead to a heart attack. If you drink alcohol, aim for moderations. Moderate alcohol intake, means 2 drinks or less per day for men, and 1 drink or less per day for women. Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption be beneficial. If you do drink alcohol, talk with your doctor to determine how much is healthy for you.
Eat a Healthful Diet
Your diet can have a significant impact on your "bad" and "good" cholesterol levels. Managing your cholesterol levels with a well-balanced diet can reduce your risk for a heart attack by reducing the amount of plaque buildup.
A well-balanced diet includes plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nuts. Consider substituting good fats for bad fats. This means eating more mono- or polyunsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, and less saturated and trans fats, which can raise your bad cholesterol levels.
The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends that you add fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, to your diet at least twice per week. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take omega-3 supplements.
Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill, can help reduce the risk of heart attack by reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise will help strengthen the heart muscle, decrease the heart's workload, and lower blood pressure. In general, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week. If you have a sedentary job, it may be beneficial to aim for 60 minutes of exercise a day. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Ask your doctor whether taking a daily aspirin is right for you. If you are at high risk of heart attack, aspirin may prevent one. Since aspirin therapy is not without risk, be sure to consult with your doctor before taking an aspirin a day.
Manage Other Health Conditions
Certain medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or heart attack. While not all risk can be eliminated, carefully managing these conditions can greatly decrease the risk of heart problems.
High blood glucose levels can increase your risk for a heart attack by causing damage to smaller blood vessels and contributing to plaque buildup on blood vessels walls. Managing blood glucose levels may delay cardiovascular problems that contribute to heart attacks. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to develop a plan to manage your blood glucose levels.
High Blood Pressure
If you are being treated for high blood pressure, adhere to the treatment plan outlined by your doctor. Monitor your blood pressure regularly. Talk to your doctor about checking your blood pressure at home.
Dietary changes, regular exercise, and medications can help you control your blood pressure. The DASH diet is a plan designed to help reduce blood pressure.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by repeated episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep. The disorder is associated with disrupted sleep patterns and decreased oxygen supply. OSA has been linked to several cardiovascular disorders, as well as early death. Complications of OSA include high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. Work with your doctor to decrease the incidence or severity of your sleep apnea. This may include using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or surgery.
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Last reviewed March 2017 by Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 12/15/2016
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