How To Prevent A Heart Attack

According to the CDC, in the United States, someone experiences a heart attack every 40 seconds. 

Over 805,000 people are affected yearly – 75% of whom are first-timers.

The mortality rates for the disease are quite high, with over 62% fatality rate. While this is deadly, it is possible to prevent death from heart attacks and certainly prevent the attack from happening in the first place.

Keep reading to learn how.

What is a heart attack? 

In medical terms, a heart attack is a myocardial infarction. It belongs to a group of diseases known as heart diseases, which are the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. 

Usually, a heart attack happens when there is an imbalance in the oxygen supply and demand of the myocardium. This then leads to the accumulation of toxic metabolites that cause chest pain. The more the condition is left untreated, the more damage is done.

The imbalance can occur either due to reduced blood supply or reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This leads to straining of the cardiac muscles to an extent of causing an abnormal rhythm. 

With each attack, the muscle is impaired in its function till a point it can no longer work, which then ushers in the inevitable: death.

Warning signs 

1 out of 5 heart attacks that occur are categorized as silent. This means that you can experience a heart attack and not know that you’ve had one. This puts you in a precarious situation as it could happen again, and that may be fatal.

However, most people are still able to recognize the symptoms, which is essential in the prevention of further damage to the cardiac muscle. Therefore, before we look at how to prevent heart attacks, let’s consider the warning signs of a heart attack.

Chest pain 

This is a feeling of heaviness and squeezing pain that may happen with or without exertion. In most cases, the pain is relieved by resting, but in some, it may persist even with rest which only indicates a poor prognosis. 

This pain radiates toward the left arm and lasts for a few minutes. This is the most distinguishing feature of heart attacks.

General weakness, light-headedness, or fainting

This is due to impairment of blood flow. Decreased oxygen supply to important parts of the body, such as the brain and skeletal muscles, will then lead to fatigue and light-headedness that can culminate in fainting.

Pain and discomfort in the upper body

Apart from the chest pains, you will experience pain in the upper body, particularly in the jaw, neck, back, arms and shoulders.

Shortness of breath

This may occur concurrently with chest discomfort.

Additionally, some unexplained symptoms of nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, and unusual fatigue may also occur.

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Causes and risk factors 

A heart attack happens most of the time as a secondary symptom of coronary artery disease. Less common causes of the disease include severe spasms or sudden contraction of the coronary artery.

Coronary artery disease is the most common heart disease in America. It is due to plaque formation in the coronary artery through a process known as atherosclerosis. 

The plaque forms from cholesterol that accumulate in the artery wall and, over time, leads to narrowing and blockage of the coronary arteries supplying the myocardium. 

Alternatively, the plaque can dislodge, leading to the formation of a clot that proceeds to cause a partial or total blockage of the coronary artery.

This is aggravated by several risk factors that make one susceptible to the disease. These factors range from your family history and age to your lifestyle and underlying health conditions.  

The factors include:

  • Older age: the senior population is more prone to heart attacks compared to the young generation. This includes men above 45 and women older than 55.
  • Obesity: overweight individuals are more susceptible to heart disease compared to their lean counterparts. This is especially true for central obesity. This can be attributed to the fact that obesity is associated with high cholesterol and triglycerides, which are important in the formation of plaque.
  • Diabetes: this is one of the chronic conditions that are often associated with heart attacks. Others include metabolic syndrome and hypertension.
  • High levels of cholesterol
  • Stress
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Alcohol use

What to do in case of a heart attack

1. Call emergency care

A heart attack can only be dealt with definitively at a health center. If you experience symptoms indicating the premonition of a heart attack, it is prudent that the first step is to call an ambulance for assistance.

2. Take aspirin or nitroglycerin

While waiting for paramedical assistance, take aspirin to prevent clot formation or nitroglycerin for vasodilation. This will prolong life and give a chance for paramedics to intervene.

3. Take rest

Most heart attacks are exertional. Rest in a well-ventilated room can help ease the burden on the heart, thus preventing further damage to the myocardium.

4. Do CPR

In case it is another person experiences a heart attack and they fall unconscious, perform CPR to maintain life.

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How to prevent a heart attack

Whereas risk factors such as age and family history/genetics may be unmodifiable, a huge chunk of the rest can be altered or modified naturally.

The best way to deal with a heart attack and the whole spectrum of heart diseases, in general, is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. These approaches can be summarized as living a healthy lifestyle and managing any underlying chronic diseases that may precipitate heart attacks. These include:

1) Choose healthy foods and drinks

The attributable risk to this particular factor is staggering at around 80%. Therefore, optimal nutrition can reduce the incidence the rate of heart disease and, by extension, heart attacks by a significant amount. Taking a well-balanced diet is just but the start in attaining this optimal nutrition. 

Additionally, it is advisable to avoid saturated and trans fats, which are rich in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol that is harmful to the vessels. 

Instead, omega -3 fatty acids obtained from cold-water fish e.g., mackerel and salmon, can be used as they are heart-friendly. 

 Finally, salt intake should be reduced to the minimum due to its effect on hypertension which is a precipitating factor for heart attacks.

2) Keep a healthy weight

As discussed earlier, obese people have a greater risk of developing heart attacks compared to lean people. This, therefore, necessitates one to keep a healthy weight not only to reduce the risk of heart disease but also to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. 

3) Engage in physical activity 

Keeping physically fit is one of the many ways in which one can reduce the risk of heart disease. Good physical activity engagement keeps the circulation of blood to all body parts. 

This does not have to be strenuous and can even include walking for just thirty minutes a day. Most important, however, is the fact that the exercise needs to be regular and consistent for better results.

4) Avoid smoking

Tobacco smoking has been implicated in several diseases and is one of the risk factors for heart attacks as it promotes plaque formation. 

Therefore, it is recommended that if you do not smoke, you should not plan on starting and should reduce the amount of passive smoking. On the other hand, if you smoke, you should consider quitting the habit.

5) Avoid alcohol

Alcohol is a risk factor for hypertension and, thus, heart disease. On a long-term basis, it also leads to the development of central obesity. It is practical to limit alcohol consumption whenever possible.

6) Manage your hypertension

Usually, high blood pressure is a silent killer as its symptoms are mild. However, its effects are far-reaching. 

One of these is an increased tendency to form the atherosclerotic plug, which blocks coronary artery vessels. Since it is not noticeable easily, it can gradually lead to complications such as heart attacks if left untreated. 

It is advisable, then, that those at risk monitor their blood pressure and stick to medications as prescribed to avoid further complications.

7) Manage your diabetes

Diabetes, especially type 2, has been linked to heart attacks. This is preventable as it is modifiable through lifestyle changes. 

The first step is to monitor blood sugar while sticking to the regimens available for treating the disease. This will, in turn, reduce the risk of heart attacks associated with diabetes.

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8) Always check your cholesterol

Cholesterol is the primary culprit in heart attacks in most cases, as the excess is the one used for plaque formation. For this matter, it is important that the levels be measured daily and monitored, as it would come in handy in keeping the levels low.


All in all, heart attacks are very common in America today and are one of the leading causes of death. While some of the risk factors are not modifiable, most are making it easier to control and prevent a heart attack.

Therefore, we are admonished to observe the very tenets of a healthy lifestyle to evade the fatal incidences of heart attacks.

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  4. Fan, J. and T. Watanabe, Atherosclerosis: Known and unknown. Pathol Int, 2022. 72(3): p. 151-160.
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