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Health Information Center

Risk Factors for Heart Attack

  • Michael Jubinville, MPH
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Risk Factors for Heart Attack

A risk factor is something that raises your chances of getting a health problem.

You can have a heart attack with or without the factors listed below. The more risks you have, the greater your chances of having a heart attack. Ask your doctor what you can to do lower your risk.

Factors That Can Be Changed

Smoking and Vaping

Smoking harms blood vessels. It causes plaque buildup and narrowing which makes the heart work harder. Heart attack risk for smokers is 2 times higher than those who do not smoke. They are also more likely to die from a heart attack. Smokers who have a heart attack and do not quit have a much higher risk of having more heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest.

Vaping may also harm blood vessels and affect heart health.

Lack of Exercise

Exercise keeps the heart and blood vessels healthy. Not getting enough makes the risk of a heart attack or stroke up to 2 times higher. Talk to your doctor before starting a program. Even small amounts of exercise have can make a big difference in risk.

Alcohol Use

Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure and triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood linked to plaque buildup. Alcohol is also linked to abnormal heart rhythms. Drink in moderation. This is 1 drink or less a day for women and 2 drinks or less a day for men.

Certain Medicines

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ease pain, swelling, or fever. Risk of a heart attack is higher within the first week of regular NSAID use. Talk to your doctor about other medicine you can take.

Illegal drugs

Drugs, such as cocaine, damage the heart. This can lead to heart attacks or sudden cardiac arrest.


Men aged 65 years and older who are taking testosterone are more likely to have a heart attack. It is used to treat health problems like erectile dysfunction.

Health Conditions

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure makes the heart work harder. Over time, it can lead to damaged blood vessels, which increases the risk of heart disease. People who have high blood pressure and do not keep it in a healthy range have a higher risk of having a heart attack.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol carries out certain jobs in the body. The body makes and uses what it needs. But, cholesterol from food can make levels too high. This can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries.

Excess Weight

Obesity or excess weight is linked to heart attacks and heart disease. Excess weight makes the heart work harder. Losing a small amount of weight can make a big difference in lowering heart attack risk.


With diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin the way it should. in the blood lead a higher risk of a heart attack and early death. Glucose levels should be kept in a healthy range to lower the risk.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is marked by higher than normal blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and body weight, mainly around the middle part of the body. These, either alone or together, increase heart attack risk.

Poor Sleep

Ongoing lack of quality sleep can impact heart health. This can be due to poor sleep habits or conditions that affect sleep. Examples of conditions are insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

OSA is a pattern of disrupted sleep. The airway is blocked many times a night during sleep. This raises blood pressure and lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood. OSA is linked to heart disease and early death.

Factors That Cannot Be Changed


Aging changes how the heart works. Most times, it does not cause problems. Some changes are a larger heart, slower heart rate, and stiffer blood vessels and valves.


Men have a higher risk of heart disease overall. A women's risk increases after menopause, which may be related to a drop in the amount of estrogen. As a result, heart attacks are more likely in men over the age of 45 and in women over the age of 55.

Genetics and Background

Family members who have heart attacks increase your risk as well.

In general, Blacks have a higher rate of high blood pressure than Whites. This causes a higher risk of getting heart disease and having a heart attack. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, Native Americans, native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans.


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  • How does sleep affect your heart health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sleep.htm.
  • Illegal drugs and heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/illegal-drugs-and-heart-disease.
  • Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/alcohol-and-heart-health.
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  • Understand your risks to prevent a heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/understand-your-risks-to-prevent-a-heart-attack.


  • Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.