Many of these risk factors for a second heart attack are modifiable.
Once you’ve had a heart attack, you have an increased risk of having another one. That’s because the underlying factors that caused the first heart attack are still there, so it’s very possible to have a repeat event. Knowing the risk factors for a second heart attack can empower you to make changes that will lower your risk.
Understanding the Causes
It’s important to understand why a heart attack happens. If you have high cholesterol, it results over time in a buildup of plaque on the artery walls. Plaque becomes hard and brittle, which makes it unstable. Unstable plaque can break off from the artery wall and travel through the bloodstream. A heart attack occurs if that piece of plaque creates a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the heart.
Treatment and lifestyle changes after your first attack can heal plaque in the arteries. This helps prevent another heart attack. However, without changes, you will continue to be at risk for cardiac events.
Risk Factors for a Second Heart Attack
Risk factors for another attack include:
- Unhealthy diet: Your diet has a major impact on weight, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and more.
- Physical inactivity: Some people worry that they shouldn’t exercise after a cardiovascular event, but the opposite is true. Exercise helps reduce the risk of another heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.
- Smoking: Continuing to smoke increases plaque buildup in the arteries and worsens the hardening of the arteries. It also reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood cells can carry.
- High stress: Stress often results in overeating, smoking, or other lifestyle choices that affect heart health.
- Not taking your medications: Medications for heart-related problems help control your risk. Skipping them means you’re not reducing that risk.
- Not knowing your heart health numbers: You should know your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight. Knowing your numbers can help you manage your risk factors better.
- High levels of lipoprotein (a): This is a genetic risk factor for heart disease. It increases the risk of heart attacks, particularly at younger ages.
The Power of Treatment
It’s important to understand that genetic risk factors exist, but the vast majority of heart attacks are linked to lifestyle factors. This can be empowering: It means you have the power to change your risk and prevent another attack.
Eugenia Gianos, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.
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- Understand your risks to prevent a heart attack. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on February 2, 2021)