Health > Heart Attack – Risk Factors, Symptoms & Prevention
24th Mar 2022

Heart Attack – Risk Factors, Symptoms & Prevention

A heart attack occurs when something obstructs or blocks blood flow to the heart and so it cannot get the oxygen it requires. 

Heart attacks are also called “Myocardial Infarctions”. Here ‘Myo’ means muscle, ‘Cardial’ means heart, and ‘Infarction’ denotes tissue death (due to a lack of blood supply). Heart tissue death can result in permanent damage to the heart muscle. 

Heart Attack Risk Factors 

Knowledge is power, if you are aware of the risk factors, you can manage and prevent deterioration of your heart health. Research studies have identified three broad categories of risk factors that enhance an individual’s chances of having a heart attack, they are: =

1. Major risk factors – These are inborn and fixed. As these factors can’t be changed, it is suggested to earnestly work on managing those which are easier at least, if not all. They include: 

A. Increasing age 

B. Heredity (Family history of Heart problems) & Race – Children of parents with heart disease are more prone to the same. Certain ethnicities are more susceptible to heart disease than others (e.g. African-Americans have more heart disease than Caucasians) 

C. Male gender – Men are more at risk than women  

2. Modifiable Risk factors – These include the factors that can be managed or treated through a change in lifestyle or using medications: 

a. Lack of exercise or physical inactivity 

b. Being overweight and obesity 

c. High blood pressure 

d. Unhealthy triglyceride levels or high cholesterol 

e. Smoking 

f. Diabetes 

3. Contributing Risk Factors – These factors are associated with the heart condition though their prevalence is not resolutely determined yet. They are: 

a. Stress – Stress can make you overeat or smoke excessively 

b. Excessive alcohol consumption – It can affect your blood pressure 

c. Diet and Nutrition – A healthy diet helps you manage your weight, cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure, diabetes, etc. and vice versa 

13 Heart Attack Symptoms To Be Wary Of 

 1. Chest Discomfort

Chest Discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart condition. If you feel pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest it may indicate that you have a blocked artery. This feeling may arise when you are resting or doing some physical work and usually lasts longer than a few minutes. Some describe the chest discomfort as an elephant sitting on their chest, while others say it is like a pinching or burning sensation. 

 2. Nausea, Heartburn, Indigestion, or Stomach Pain

Some individuals may have these symptoms (some may even vomit) for multiple reasons however these signs can also indicate a heart attack. If you are at risk of a heart condition, visit your healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms. It is always smart to be safe, so let the medic ensure the exact reason for the above signs. 

 3. Pain that Advances to the Arm

Another typical heart attack sign is pain starting from the chest, moving outward towards arms, and radiating down the left side of the body. 

 4. Dizziness or Lightheadedness

If suddenly you feel that you may pass out (dizziness) or feel unsteady, accompanied by chest discomfort, contact the doctor without delay. It can indicate a drop in your blood pressure as the heart is not pumping the way it should. 

 5. Throat or Jaw Pain

Pressure or pain in the centre of your chest spreading up into your back, neck, jaw, or throat could be another sign of a heart attack. 

6. You Get Exhausted Easily 

Abruptly feeling fatigued, exhausted or experiencing unexplained weaknesses (sometimes lasting for days) after doing activities (like carrying groceries or climbing stairs) you had no problem doing in the past can be a sign of a heart condition. 

 7. Snoring

Unusually loud snoring that appears like choking or gasping can be a symptom of sleep apnea. This stresses your heart and can be dangerous. 

 8. Cold Sweat

Sudden cold sweating, with clammy skin for no clear reason, could indicate a heart attack. Get to the hospital immediately, and don’t drive yourself. 

 9. A Cough That Won’t Quit

A long-lasting cough producing pink or white mucus could be a heart failure symptom. This results if the heart can’t keep up with the body’s requirements, causing blood to leak back into the lungs. 

 10. Swelling in Legs, Feet, and Ankles

Bloating is resultant of blood backing up in the veins as the heart is unable to pump fast enough, causing swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet. 

 11. Irregular Heart Beat

If you feel irregular heartbeats for more than a few seconds,  your heart skipping beats, or you become acutely aware of your heartbeats, it can indicate a heart condition, consult your doctor if this happens often. 

 12. Shortness of Breath

Panting for breath or taking in deep breaths due to the shortness of breath can signal a heart attack. This often occurs right before chest discomfort. 

 13. Anxiety

Sometimes a sense of doom or having a panic attack for no apparent reason can also be the sign of a heart attack. 

Keep in mind, these symptoms could also be indicative of other underlying conditions. Be sure to consult a medical professional if you feel 2 or more of these symptoms together. 

How to Prevent a Heart Attack? 

By following a heart-healthy lifestyle you can greatly reduce your chances of a heart attack. You can adopt various strategies to have a healthy heart: 

  • Schedule health check-ups 
  • Get moving and pursue a minimum of 30-60 minutes of daily physical activity 
  • Quit smoking 
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Take your medications on time 
  • Get quality sleep 
  • Manage stress 
  • Consume a healthy diet by: 
  1. Eating lots of fruits and veggies 
  2. Take fibre rich grains & legumes 
  3. Consume healthy fats (monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats) from nuts, seeds & oils 
  4. Take fatty fish (rich in omega 3) and lean meats 
  5. Limit salt and sodium (processed foods) intake 
  6. Restrict unhealthy fats 
  7. Reduce added sugars 
  8. Quit alcohol or if at all, drink in moderation 
  9. Keep a tab on your calories 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long can one have heart attack symptoms before an actual heart attack?

The heart attack symptoms (like chest discomfort, breath shortness, shoulder/arm pain, etc.) may occur hours or weeks before the actual full-fledged heart attack

Can one get a mild heart attack and not at all know about it? 

Yes, a mild heart attack also called a silent myocardial infarction (or silent heart attack) strikes men more than women and constitutes 45% of heart attacks.

How to find out if chest pain is heart-related or muscular?

The pain of a heart attack is different from muscular pain, as heart attack pain is like a dull pain or an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest. The heart attack pain starts from the chest centre and radiates outwards to the arms, neck, back, jaw, or stomach.

What drugs prevent heart attacks?

Antiplatelets (like Aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, ASA, dipyridamole, ticlopidine, clopidogrel) help stop dangerous blood clot formation, reducing heart attack or stroke risk. Aspirin is the most commonly used antiplatelet. 

What is the pulse rate or heart rate during a heart attack?

In a lot of cases, a panic attack triggers a fast heart rate (called tachycardia). During this, the heart rate may rise up to 200 beats per minute or even faster than that. 

How to identify if my chest pain is serious? 

Visit a doctor if your chest pain is followed with the following symptoms: 
A sudden tightness, pressure, or crushing under your breastbone. 
Chest pain spreading to jaw, left arm, or back. 
Shortness of breath, even after a long period of inactivity. 

How common is a heart attack in your 60s? 

The risk of having a Heart attack increases with age. For men, the average age for a heart attack is 64.5, and for women, the average age for a heart attack is 70.3. 

List the heart attack symptoms for a woman.

Heart attack symptoms in ladies are: 
Uncomfortable tightness, pressure, squeezing, pain in the chest centre.  
Ache or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, jaw, neck, or stomach. 
Breath shortness (with or without chest discomfort). 
Cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness. 
Dizziness, Unusual fatigue, Vomiting