Certain factors contribute to the unwanted buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) that narrows arteries throughout your body. You can improve or eliminate many of these risk factors to reduce your chances of having a first or subsequent heart attack.

Heart attack risk factors include:

  • Age. Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.
  • Tobacco. Smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk of a heart attack.
  • High blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that feed your heart by accelerating atherosclerosis. High blood pressure that occurs with obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes increases your risk even more.
  • High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries. A high level of triglycerides, a type of blood fat related to your diet, also ups your risk of heart attack. However, a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) lowers your risk of heart attack.
  • Diabetes. Insulin, a hormone secreted by your pancreas, allows your body to use glucose, a form of sugar. Having diabetes — not producing enough insulin or not responding to insulin properly — causes your body's blood sugar levels to rise. Diabetes, especially uncontrolled, increases your risk of a heart attack.
  • Family history of heart attack. If your siblings, parents or grandparents have had early heart attacks (by age 55 for male relatives and by age 65 for female relatives), you may be at increased risk.
  • Lack of physical activity. An inactive lifestyle contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity. People who get regular aerobic exercise have better cardiovascular fitness, which decreases their overall risk of heart attack. Exercise is also beneficial in lowering high blood pressure.
  • Obesity. Obesity is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lower this risk, however.
  • Stress. You may respond to stress in ways that can increase your risk of a heart attack.
  • Illegal drug use. Using stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, can trigger a spasm of your coronary arteries that can cause a heart attack.
  • A history of preeclampsia. This condition causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
  • A history of an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
Nov. 15, 2014

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.