Health Team

Know heart attack risks, triggers during Heart Month

Posted February 7

From Valentine's Day cards to heart shaped chocolates, there are plenty of hearts to go around in February, which is why the second month of the year is also Heart Month.

February is a time to focus attention on heart health. Some people have a higher risk of heart attack and should be aware of certain heart attack triggers.

The first of the heart attack risk factors listed by the Mayo Clinic is age. Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than younger men and women.

Tobacco use is another risk factor. Smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk of having a heart attack.

Other risk factors include: High blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, diabetes, family history of heart attacks, lack of physical activity, obesity, stress and drug use.

For women, a history of preeclampsia also raises the risk of a heart attack.

According to experts with WebMD, those individuals need to be aware of potential triggers for heart attack.

One heart attack trigger includes a lack of regular restful sleep: A study found people who typically sleep fewer than six hours a night were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who slept 6 to 8 hours. 

Cold weather can also be a trigger. Freezing weather can cause arteries to narrow, so your heart works harder to keep your body warm.

So, limit time and activity spent outdoors in cold temperatures.

Sudden or intense exertion outdoors in cold weather or even in mild temperatures can be a trigger, too. About 6 percent of heart attacks are triggered by physical effort.

Air pollution can also be a trigger. Sitting in slow, heavy traffic is especially dangerous because it combines both exhaust fumes and traffic jam anxiety.

A heavy meal can actually be a trigger for some people at higher risk of heart attack. It can lead to higher levels of norepinephrine—a stress hormone in your body.

Strong emotions, such as anger, grief and stress, can also trigger heart attacks in those who are at higher risk.

Illness can also be a problem. A cold or the flu challenges your immune system, which can cause a heart attack. One study shows people with respiratory infections were twice as likely to have a heart attack.

Other potential triggers for people at higher risk of heart attacks include asthma attacks, excessive use of alcohol and even sexual activity.


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