Understand Your Risk of Heart Attack

Updated:Feb 4,2014

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Understanding the terms of risk

Extensive clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. View an animation of a heart attack.

  • Major risk factors are those that research has shown significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.
  • Contributing risk factors
    Other factors are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but their significance and prevalence haven't yet been precisely determined.
  • Modifiable risk factors
    The American Heart Association has identified several risk factors. Some of them can be modified, treated or controlled, and some can't.
  • Risk calculations
    The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. Also, the greater the level of each risk factor, the greater the risk. For example, a person with a total cholesterol of 300 mg/dL has a greater risk than someone with a total cholesterol of 245 mg/dL, even though everyone with a total cholesterol greater than 240 is considered high-risk.

Assess your risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease in the next 10 years with the Heart Attack Risk Calculator.

Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease

Extensive clinical and statistical studies have identified several factors that increase the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack.

Major risk factors are those that research has shown significantly increase the risk of heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.

Contributing risk factors are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but their significance and prevalence haven't yet been precisely determined.

The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. Also, the greater the level of each risk factor, the more that factor affects your overall risk.


Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders. These include fatty buildups in arteries, several types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung problems). Atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty substances in the arteries) is a chief contributor to the high number of deaths from smoking. Many studies detail the evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.




This content was last reviewed on 10/20/2012.


Heart Attack

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