Addressing your risk factors can make a second heart attack less likely.
Having a heart attack can be frightening. Once someone has one, it might be a wakeup call, and they may have anxiety about suffering a second attack. It’s true that people who have one attack have a risk of having another event. However, there are many ways to manage that risk and improve your cardiovascular health.
Heart Attacks by the Numbers
In the United States, around 805,000 people have a heart attack every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those attacks, 75 percent are someone’s first one. That means the rest are people who’ve already had an attack before.
In other words, there are fewer people having second or third heart attacks each year—but the number is still significant and concerning. That’s why it’s important to understand your risk factors and how to manage them.
The Cause of a Second Heart Attack
If you have a heart attack, it’s because you have unstable plaque in your arteries. Lifestyle factors like unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle can cause plaque buildup in the arteries. The plaque hardens and becomes brittle, so pieces may break off. The plaque travels through the bloodstream and may cause blood clots. This may result in a heart attack.
If you’ve had one heart attack, the underlying problems that caused the first attack are still there. The unstable plaque in arteries throughout the body may continue to pose a risk.
Reducing Your Risk
One reason many people do not have a second attack is because they address their risk factors. A cardiovascular event can be a wakeup call about your lifestyle, and surviving a heart attack can provide motivation to make some changes.
By working with your doctor, you can take the steps to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking
- Moderating your alcohol intake
- Maintaining good blood sugar control
Eugenia Gianos, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.