Heart Attack Risk Factors


Heart attacks usually occur when blood flow to the heart muscle is restricted, which is generally due to build-ups or obstructions in the arteries. Lack of blood reaching the heart can cause cell death and muscular atrophy.

This often causes pain in the chest, jaw, back and upper abdominal area. It often mimics the pain experienced during indigestion. The pain can be experienced as a sharp, crushing pain, pressure, burning sensation, or mild discomfort. 

Heart attacks are not the result of a single factor, but a confluence of risk factors as described below. It is vital to understand the risk factors to prevent or minimise the chances of getting a heart attack.

Predisposing Factors  

Certain factors that cannot be changed affect and increase the risk of experiencing cardiovascular diseases and associated heart attacks. These include:

  • Gender. People assigned male at birth (AMAB)are more likely to have a heart attack compared to people assigned female at birth (AFAB).
  • Age. People AMAB above the age of 45 and people AFAB  above the age of 55 are at a higher risk of having a heart attack
  • Heritability. Genetics play a big role in cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks. Having a family history of heart disease and/or heart attacks can be an indicator of predisposition.
  • Pre-existing Conditions. Additionally, pre-existing conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, pre-diagnosed hypertension, preeclampsia, sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, AIDS, IBD, Crohn's Disease, diabetes, and other conditions can increase your risk of having a heart attack.

Hypertension is an important risk factor, often caused due to blood flow obstructions³. To find out more about blood pressure click here. It is vital to consider your risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes in order to prevent heart attacks. To access the free tool of the NHS, for a health check, click here. 


Research has shown the benefits of implementing specific diets in controlling the progression of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and ischaemic strokes and their prevention. Epidemiological research indicates the potential of plant-based diets to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, especially by the consumption of:

  • Fruits (bananas, apples, pears, and citrus fruits)
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Vegetables such as carrots and green leafy vegetables with high fibre content

Maintaining a low salt and sugar diet has also been proven to be beneficial. It is also vital to consider reducing the intake of processed and fatty foods such as:

  • Dairy products (hard cheese, butter, lard and cream)
  • Cakes and confectionery 
  • Fried foods
  • Red meats (lamb, ham, porks and beef)

It is also recommended to avoid other high-calorie content foods. ²Instead, replace or reduce consumption of butter and oils with plant-based alternatives such as olive oils. Additionally, discussion with your local healthcare providers about taking supplements should be considered. 

Poor nutrition can also result in excess consumption of calories and unhealthy foods, thus leading to obesity, diabetes, increase in body fat distribution, unhealthy weight and eating patterns, mental health disorders, cancers, bowel diseases, kidney pressure and cardiovascular problems. 

Obesity and high cholesterol levels have a direct link to cardiac problems, as they result in the buildup and deposit of fat and clots within the blood vessels. This restricts blood flow to vital areas within the body, often the primary cause of heart attacks. Therefore, it is extremely important to keep your weight in check in order to reduce the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases, in addition to the other possible conditions that may occur. ¹ 

Physical Activity  

Physical activity is extremely important in controlling and preventing  heart disease, as well as heart attacks. Staying active can raise the  levels of good cholesterol and essential fats in the body that are needed for  proper organ functioning, reduced blood pressure levels, and control over the levels of sugar and glucose in the blood (glucose is the breakdown product of food which provides a form of energy for the cells). It can also help expend the calories that you consume during the day, thereby helping in reducing and/or maintaining your weight. 

Regular physical activity can also help in situations where plaque build-ups in the arteries can cause restricted blood flow. Daily exercising has other beneficial factors such as improving mental health, self-awareness and self-esteem.

For quick tips on staying active click here.  


Smoking has an associated risk with cardiac disease and heart attacks. If you are a smoker, quitting could improve your chances of leading a healthy life, free of extreme symptoms, exorbitant medical bills, risk of cardiac disease and more. It is one of the best actions you can make to improve your health to become stronger.

Several toxins and chemicals in cigarettes, shisha, tobacco, low tar cigarettes, smoke-free cigarettes and other tobacco-based products, can damage blood vessels, causing high blood pressure and increased pressure on the heart. This also leads to an increase in the risk of strokes and clot formation, thus increasing the risk of heart attacks.⁴

For a quick guide on quitting smoking, click here. 

To read real-life accounts of people who have completely quit smoking, click here.  


Alcohol can affect a variety of organs ranging from the liver to the brain, gut and more. Even a small amount can impact your speech and movement, causing imbalance, confusion and behavioural changes.

 Drinking might not necessarily be a problem if it is kept under control. However, the more you drink, the more damage it can cause by increasing blood pressure, increasing the pressure on the heart, increasing the risk of obstructions, and increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks, strokes and other associated conditions. It can also cause cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart), increased heartbeat, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), as well as liver damage and liver cirrhosis. 

Alcohol can also increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.⁵ To understand more about the calorie intake associated with alcohol consumption, click here.  

Tools To Help Prevent Heart Attack

There is a wide range of support available online in the form of forums, discussion groups, support groups, communities and more. Feel free to test out any of the quizzes, calculators and planners. These are completely free and easy to use and will help you analyze and get a better understanding of how to prevent cardiac disease and heart attacks. 

Tools To Calculate Heart Risk 

1. Mayo Clinic 

2. NHS  

3. Heart Foundation  

4. Reynolds Risk Calculator (For Men/Women Without Diabetes)  

5. 10-Year Risk of Heart Disease 

6. Hypertension Prevalence Estimator  

Support Groups and Networks Related to Heart Disease 

1. Support Network for Heart Disease  

 2. British Heart Foundation Online Support Community 

 3. Find Local Support Groups  

For Smoking Cessation 

1. To Find a Local ‘Stop Smoking’ Service 

2. Digital Mobile Apps to Help Quit Smoking  

3. Managing Withdrawal Symptoms  

4. Smoking Savings Calculator  

5. For Text Message Motivational Service  

6. Information About Nicotine Replacement Therapies 

Alcohol-Consumption Related Tools 

 1. Tips to Quit Drinking 

 2. Support Strategies For Quitting  

 3. Track Your Drinking Habits  

 4. Plan to Quit Drinking  

 5. Handling Urges  

 6. Tips On Recovering From Relapses  

 7. Alcohol Support Groups  

 8. Cocktail Content Calculator  

 9. Drink Size Calculator  

10. Alcohol Calorie Calculator  

11. Alcohol and Budgeting  

12. Blood Alcohol Content Calculator  

Tools For Managing Other Co-morbidities 

1. Managing High Blood Pressure 

2. Managing and Living with Diabetes  

3. Nutrition for High Blood Pressure Management  

4. Understanding Sleep Disorders  

5. For Measuring Body Fat 

6. Rough Estimate of Your General Health 

7. For Understanding Your Weight 

8. For Understanding Cholesterol  

9. For Hypercholesterolemia Information 

10. Podcasts about Cardiovascular Health and Disease


Good diet, nutrition, physical activity and good lifestyle choices can help you reduce the risk of cardiac disease. There is a range of tools and support available to help you make these changes without experiencing disruptions in your daily activities and your life. It will, however, significantly help you improve your health, without you even realising it! These changes are simply that easy to incorporate! 


  1. Katta, N., Loethen, T., Lavie, C. J., & Alpert, M. A. (2021). Obesity and Coronary  Heart Disease: Epidemiology, Pathology, and Coronary Artery Imaging. Current  problems in cardiology, 46(3), 100655.  
  2. Perez-Cornago, A., Crowe, F., Appleby, P., Bradbury, K., Wood, A., & Jakobsen, M. U., Johnson, L., Sacerdote, C., Steur, M., Weiderpass, E., Würtz, A. M. L., Kühn, T.,  Katzke, V., Trichopoulou, A., Karakatsani, A., La Vecchia, C., Masala, G., Tumino,  R., Panico, S., Sluijs, I., Skeie, G., Imaz, L., Petrova, D., Quirós, J. R., Yohar, S. M.  C., Jakszyn, P., Melander, O., Sonestedt, E., Andersson, J., Wennberg, M., Aune,  D., Riboli, E., Schulze, M. B., Di Angelantonio, E., Wareham, N. J., Danesh, J.,  Forouhi, N. G., Butterworth, A. S. And Key, T. J. (2020). Plant foods, dietary fibre  and risk of ischaemic heart disease in the European Prospective Investigation into  Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort. International Journal Of Epidemiology, 50(1),  212-222. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyaa155 
  3. Virani, S. S., Alonso, A., Aparicio, H. J., Benjamin, E. J., Bittencourt, M. S.,  Callaway, C. W., Carson, A. P., Chamberlain, A. M., Cheng, S., Delling, F. N.,  Elkind, M., Evenson, K. R., Ferguson, J. F., Gupta, D. K., Khan, S. S., Kissela, B.  M., Knutson, K. L., Lee, C. D., Lewis, T. T., Liu, J., and the American Heart  Association Council on Epidemiology and Prevention Statistics Committee and  Stroke Statistics Subcommittee (2021). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics-2021  Update: A Report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 143(8), e254– e743. 
  4. Wang, W., Zhao, T., Geng, K., Yuan, G., Chen, Y., & Xu, Y. (2021). Smoking and the Pathophysiology of Peripheral Artery Disease. Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine, 8, 704106.
  5. Wong, J. A., & Conen, D. (2021). Alcohol consumption, atrial fibrillation, and  ardiovascular disease: finding the right balance. European heart journal, 42(12),  1178–1179.

Ishana Gole

Master of Science - MS, Bioscience Entrepreneurship, UCL (University College London)
Ishana is a Biomedical Science student with a keen interest in neuroscience and past experience in online consulting, marketing and advertising.

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