To learn how to prevent a heart attack, know what factors put you at risk for heart disease, then talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes and proper medication.
One of the most common forms of heart disease is heart attack, which occurs when part of the heart muscle dies because blood flow to the tissue has been blocked. In the United States, The Heart Foundation reports that someone experiences a heart attack approximately every 34 seconds.
Nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. die from a heart attack annually. To avoid becoming one of them, it is vital to learn how to prevent a heart attack.
Lifestyle choices to prevent a heart attack
Knowing what factors put you at risk for a heart attack is the first step towards preventing one.
Research has shown that between 80 and 90 percent of heart disease, including heart attacks, is caused by one or more of the four conventional risk factors: cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Making choices that limit these risk factors can help prevent a heart attack.
The first change that will help prevent a heart attack is your diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that “a healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease” and recommends eating a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. The AHA also suggests limiting how much sugar, particularly sugar-sweetened drinks, and red meat you consume.
These changes will help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. A healthy diet will also lower your risk for diabetes or control diabetes if you have already been diagnosed. And if you smoke cigarettes, work towards quitting as soon as possible.
Other choices that will help prevent a heart attack are getting physical activity every day, limiting your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, and maintaining a healthy weight. Stress, especially chronic stress due to work or family, can also cause heart attacks, so take steps to reduce your stress levels.
Have an emergency plan in case of a heart attack
Part of heart attack prevention is having an emergency plan in place in case you notice signs of a cardiovascular event.
Know the warning signs of a heart attack. They include:
- Discomfort in your chest, jaw, arms, or back
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sweating, lightheadedness, or shaking
If you experience any of those symptoms and suspect you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Always carry a list of any medications you are taking, including aspirin, as well as medications to which you are allergic. Make time to talk with your doctor beforehand about what steps you can take to keep yourself safe while you wait for help to arrive.
Can medications prevent a heart attack?
Depending on your health, certain medications may lower your risk of a heart attack, though no medication can completely prevent one.
For some people, taking aspirin can prevent blood clots to protect against a heart attack. The best results are for adults between the ages of 50 and 69 years old who already have at least a 10 percent risk for a heart attack. Before taking aspirin, however, talk with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you.
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe statins to help lower your blood lipid levels, especially if you also have diabetes or have had a prior instance of heart disease. Other medications may help manage high blood pressure or prevent blood clots.
It is important not to rely solely on medication to prevent a heart attack. Lifestyle changes make medication more effective, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. In some cases, the daily choices you make about diet, exercise, and stress may remove the need for medication entirely.
At your next doctor’s appointment, ask about steps you can take to lower your cardiovascular risk and how to prevent a heart attack.
March 29, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN