|What Increases My Chance Of Having A Heart Attack?
A heart attack is where tissue and muscle of the heart begin to die due the loss of blood supply. Atherosclerosis (image) is the most common cause of heart attacks, that is, the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries which supply blood to the heart. As the deposits build up, they narrow the arteries and increase the chance of blood clots occurring. Any risk which increases the chance of atherosclerosis increases your risk of a heart attack. The risk factors for heart disease are very similar and include:
Women over the age of 55 and men over 45 are more likely to have a heart attack than their younger counterparts. Scientists believe that estrogen protects women from heart attacks but that the rates equal out after menopause when estrogen levels fall. In other words, menopause is a main culprit for increasing heart attack rates. One recent study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine challenged this opinion and suggested the increase was caused by the natural aging process and not menopause. They say it is the aging of cells in the heart and arteries that cause heart attacks in women. Aging itself, they say, is an 'adequate explanation' and the arrival of menopause and the hormone changes it brings does not seem to play a role. The jury is still out. You may find it interesting to read about the affects of menopause on the body.
If you have a first degree relative (parent or sibling) who has had a heart attack, you may be at increased risk. This is particularly true if they had a heart attack before the age of 55. It may be that a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol or blood pressure runs in the family.
When menopause occurs naturally, a woman's risk for heart attack increases gradually. However if she enters premature menopause, for example as the result of a hysterectomy operation and the removal of her ovaries, her risk for heart attacks rises rapidly. One study showed that women who had undertaken an oophorectomy (ovary removal) and who had never taken estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) had about twice the risk of developing coronary heart disease (which leads to heart attacks) as those who did not. For this reason it is possible that one day ERT will be used for heart attack prevention.
Older types of contraceptive pills used to contain higher dosages of estrogen and appeared to increase a woman's risk of heart attack. They seemed to raise ‘bad’ LDL levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. Both conditions are linked to higher heart attack incidences. They also increased the likelihood of blood clots forming. Modern pills now contain lower dosages of hormones and appear not to increase heart attack rates, unless the woman also smokes. See also, is it safe to take the contraceptive pill after 35? and contraceptive pills side effects for a list of potential complications.
Smoking seems to be one of the most significant risk factors for heart attacks in women. Every single cigarette smoked causes the risk of heart attack to rise. Smoking 1 to 4 cigarettes a day doubles a woman's risk and smoking more than 25 a day raises it 5 to 15 times. The good news is, just as the rate rises, it reduces with every cigarette left in the pack. Even better, it is never too late to quit. After 2 to 3 years of giving up cigarettes, a woman's increased risk of heart attack disappears.
Obesity in women: Being obese and having a heart attack go hand in hand. Even being mildly overweight can cause the risk to rise dramatically. For example a woman who is 5 ft 5 tall (1.68 meters) and weighs 137 (9 stone 8) to 145 pounds (10.4 stone) has a 30 percent greater chance of having a heart attack than a woman of the same height who weighs less than 125 pounds (8.9 stone). An 8 year study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that 70 percent of all heart attacks in female patients were related to obesity.
High levels of cholesterol are a well-known risk factor for atherosclerotic related heart disease. Researchers believe that estrogen protects women earlier in life by increasing levels of HDL cholesterol - the so-called 'happy' cholesterol that protects the heart by carrying 'bad' LDL cholesterol out of the blood stream and dumping it in the kidneys for disposal. Postmenopause women have higher levels of LDL cholesterol than perimenopause women.
Diabetes appears to speed up the process of atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries. More women than men have diabetes. For some unknown reason the disease also appears to increase the risk of a second heart attack in women but not in men. Talk to your doctor about prediabetes screening if you are aged over 40, or if you feel you may be displaying some of the symptoms of diabetes. Managing the disease can help reduce your risk factors for many complications.
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Hypertension or high blood pressure over time damages the arteries and accelerates the speed of atherosclerosis. Although blood pressure increases slightly with age, most chronic (ongoing) cases are caused by bad diet, obesity and lack of physical activity.
One study found that a woman less than 5 feet tall (1.52m) has a 50 percent greater chance of having a heart attack than a woman who is 5 feet 4 (1.65m). One of the simplest possible explanations is that a shorter woman's arteries are smaller, so they are easier to clog. Another possible explanation is that a short woman is more likely to carry extra weight around the tummy area, the so-called dangerous apple shape which is linked to symptoms of coronary heart disease. Finally, taller women have lower blood cholesterol than shorter women, although the reason for this is not clear.
Stress appears to raise the risk of heart attack in two ways: Firstly by encouraging unhealthy behavior such as comfort eating on junk food, smoking and alcohol consumption. And secondly by raising blood pressure. One large-scale study (Framingham) found that female clerical workers have a higher rate of heart attack than homemakers. The difference appears to be mainly psychological: clerical workers feel they have less control over their life. Take the online stress test to discover your risk of stress-related illness. Also, read more about the dangers of stress on the body.
One recent study found that women who were unable to become pregnant for 5 years, but eventually did (known as subfertility), have a 19 percent increased risk of heart disease compared to those who fall pregnant easily. Subfertility is most often found in women with irregular periods, and those who are obese, or suffer thyroid disease or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS have higher rates of high cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure.
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