Reducing Your Risk of Heart Attack

You can lower your risk of heart attack by making modifications to your lifestyle. If you have already had a heart attack, or have several risk factors for heart disease that put you at high risk, your doctor may recommend certain medications to lower your risk of first or recurrent heart attack.

General Guidelines for Preventing Heart Attack

If You Smoke, Quit

Smoking can increase the amount of fatty material that collects in your arteries. In addition, nicotine contained in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder. It narrows blood vessels and subsequently increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Also remember that secondhand smoking is detrimental to your health. Make sure you're not exposed to cigarette smoke. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops significantly within the first year.

Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

A diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body weight—three heart attack risk factors. Follow the meal plan recommended by your doctor. Also remember to supplement your diet with omega-3 fatty acids. There is evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids helps to lower blood pressure, prevent heart arrhythmias, and may decrease your risk of heart attack.

Exercise Regularly

Follow your doctor’s recommendations for physical activity. After a heart attack, he or she will likely refer you to a cardiac rehabilitation program, which will help you establish a life-long exercise plan and monitor your initial program. Choose exercises that you enjoy and that you will make a regular part of your day. Strive to maintain an exercise program that keeps you fit and at a healthy weight. For most people, this could include walking briskly or participating in another aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes per day.

Lose Excess Weight

Follow the dietary and exercise plan recommended by your doctor. Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of heart attack, and losing weight lowers that risk. To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you expend. To maintain a healthy weight, eat an equal number of calories than you expend. One indicator of a healthy weight is body mass index. BMI of 25 and above is associated with high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and increased risk of heart disease.

Take Medications as Directed

If your healthcare provider has prescribed medications for your heart condition, take them exactly as directed and report side effects to your healthcare provider. Do not skip pills or stop taking them without consulting your healthcare provider.

Ask your doctor whether taking a daily aspirin is right for you. If you are at high risk of heart attack or have had a heart attack, aspirin may help prevent a future heart attack. Since aspirin therapy is not without risk, be sure to consult a health professional before taking an aspirin a day. If you had an angioplasty your doctor may prescribe other anticlotting drugs, like clopidogrel (Plavix), in addition to aspirin.

If you have had a heart attack, your doctor will consider prescribing certain classes of medication to reduce your risk of another heart attack. Your doctor will take into account your personal health history to determine if there are any reasons you should not take these medications. Beta blockers, which lower your blood pressure and heart rate, are generally prescribed for at least a year after a heart attack. People with high cholesterol will be placed on cholesterol lowering medications, like statins. Also, if you had a heart attack that significantly decreased your heart’s pumping capacity you may be given an ACE inhibitor.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Heavy drinking is associated with increased risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking may lower the risk of heart attack. Moderate drinking is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer or 4 ounces of wine or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits. In addition, alcohol may interfere with your medications. Make sure to discuss your alcohol intake with your healthcare provider.

When to Contact Your Doctor

  • If you experience any chest pain or discomfort, call 911 for emergency medical assistance
  • If you become short of breath
  • If you have pain in your arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • If you develop new symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, lightheadedness, or dizziness
  • If any of the medications ordered cause side effects

References:

American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org . Accessed August 18, 2008.

Daily aspirin therapy. FDA Consumer Magazine . Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2003/503_aspirin.html . Accessed October 12, 2004.

Knapp HR, FitzGerald GA. The antihypertensive effects of fish oil: a controlled study of polyunsaturated fatty acid supplements in essential hypertension. N Engl J Med. 1989;320:1037.

The Trials of Hypertension Prevention Collaborative Research Group. The effects of nonpharmacologic interventions on blood pressure of persons with high-normal levels. Results of the Trials of Hypertension Prevention, Phase 1. JAMA. 1992;267:1213.

Siscovick, DS, Raghunathan, TE, King, I, et al. Dietary intake and cell membrane levels of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the risk of primary cardiac arrest. JAMA. 1995;274:1363.

Goldenberg I, Jonas M, Tenenbaum A, et al. Current smoking, smoking cessation, and the risk of sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary artery disease. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:2301.



Last reviewed July 2008 by Michael J. Fucci, DO

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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