Heart Attack: Who is At Risk?

By Hans Diehl, M.D. www.chiphealth.com

What Is A Heart Attack?

A heart attack is a medical emergency, and the leading cause of death for both men and women in industrialized nations. The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction. The term myocardial infarction originated from myocardium (meaning heart muscle) and infarction (meaning tissue death due to oxygen starvation). People often use the phrase "heart attack" loosely to describe sudden cardiac death, which may or may not have been from a myocardial infarction. It has been estimated that 35% of heart attacks result in sudden death. Heart disease often has few symptoms. For 40% of those deaths, sudden death (or cardiac arrest) was the very first symptom of heart disease.

Symptoms of an acute myocardial infarction include chest pain radiating to the left arm, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, palpitations, sweating, and shortness of breath. It's often accompanied by a sudden feeling of illness, or a sense of doom. Symptoms can vary between men and women. Women frequently experience shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue. About one third of all heart attacks are silent with no chest pain or other obvious symptoms, and they are not life-threatening, but harbingers of more to come!

Who Is At Risk For A Heart Attack?

The risk factor concept is a good way to determine the likelihood of coronary heart disease:

  • · The most serious risk factor by far is an elevated blood cholesterol. Men, 50 years and older, with cholesterol levels over 295 mg% (or 7.6 mmol/L) are 10 times more likely to develop atherosclerosis (or narrowing and hardening of the arteries) than men the same age with levels under 200 mg% (or 5.1 mmol/L). A 20% decrease in blood cholesterol levels lowers the risk of a coronary by about 50 percent.
  • · By age 60, smokers are 10 times more likely than non-smokers to die from heart disease. More than 150,000 coronary deaths a year are directly related to smoking.
  • · In North America every third adult has high blood pressure. This triples the likelihood of coronary heart attack and death when compared to a person with normal blood pressure.
  • · Obese men are five times more likely to die of heart disease by age 60 than men of normal weight.
  • · Other risk factors are diabetes, elevated triglycerides, sedentary lifestyle, stress and possibly an elevated homocysteine blood level. Fortunately, all of these risk factors can be positively affected by some simple changes in diet and lifestyle. Heredity, age, and gender are also risk factors, but they are not easily subject to change.


The higher on the arch, the higher the contribution of the risk factor to heart disease. Five of the eight controllable risk factors are largely under the control of diet.



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