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How to Know If You’re at Risk for a Heart Attack

Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the United States. Heart attacks occur when something — usually a blood clot — interrupts the flow of blood to your heart. Lack of oxygenated blood causes tissues to die. 

Heart attacks are always medical emergencies and can be fatal. When you understand your heart attack risk, you’re empowered to take the steps you need to protect your heart and live a longer, fuller life. 

Here at TLC Medical Group Inc, leading cardiologist Anthony B. Lewis, MD, and the rest of our team encourage patients to determine their heart attack risk so they can make lifestyle changes that boost heart health. We’ve gathered information here that lets you know what to watch out for and how to improve your heart health.

Get an evaluation

Some heart conditions that raise your risk for heart attack, such as high blood pressure (aka hypertension), don’t have symptoms. Other factors that may put you at risk for a heart attack can vary by individual. 

The easiest, surest way to determine your risk is to undergo a comprehensive evaluation by an expert cardiologist. As a cardiologist, Dr. Lewis uses various tools to evaluate your heart. He lets you know which of the following three tests is right for you:

Cardiac Calcium Scoring

This test checks to see if you have plaque in your arteries. Plaque is made up of calcium and cholesterol. Plaque can narrow your arteries and damage them so that blood can’t flow freely.

Your cardiac calcium score helps the doctor evaluate your heart attack risk. This test is useful if you’re over the age of 50, or are under age 50 but have a family history of heart attacks.

C-reactive protein (CRP)

Inflammation in your body is at the root of many diseases, including heart disease. CRP is a protein in your blood that serves as an indicator of inflammation throughout your body.

The formation of cholesterol-based plaque in your blood vessels triggers inflammation, and CRP levels rise. We see elevated CRP levels in people who have heart attacks. Dr. Lewis may recommend this test if you’re 40 or older.

Nuclear Cardiac Stress Test

A cardiac stress test helps identify problems with blood flow to the heart. The test measures your heart’s ability to respond under stress. If you’re experiencing symptoms of coronary artery disease, this test can provide evidence of reduced blood flow in your vessels from narrowing or plaque.

Know your lipids

A lipids blood test gives your doctor useful information about the cholesterol levels in your blood. Elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — a “bad” form of cholesterol — combined with lower levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol are a major risk factor for a heart attack.

If your levels indicate a moderate to high risk, Dr. Lewis will discuss steps you can take to manage your cholesterol. Dietary changes, such as reducing your saturated fat intake and adopting a heart-healthy diet, can help lower LDL. Depending on your health status and history, he may recommend medication to bring your levels within a normal range.

Take a look at your lifestyle

Lifestyle factors are paramount for health, including heart health. Do you smoke? Do you find yourself indulging in alcohol excessively? Are you sedentary on most days? These lifestyle factors raise your risk of having a heart attack. 

Smoking and drinking too much alcohol damages arteries and promotes arterial stiffness. Stiff arteries set the stage for atherosclerosis and a potential heart attack. Long-term stress also increases your risk of having a heart attack.

Manage your pressure

Uncontrolled or poorly controlled high blood pressure (HBP, aka hypertension) is a significant risk factor for a heart attack. If you have HBP, it’s crucial that you get regular checkups to ensure that your current regimen is effective at keeping your blood pressure within the target range. 

Even if you don’t have HBP, knowing your numbers is an important aspect of preventive heart health. Many people with HBP are unaware they have it, which is why it’s sometimes called “the silent killer.” 

Other conditions like diabetes, sleep apnea, and obesity raise your heart attack risk. Dr. Lewis helps you improve your overall health to keep your heart safe, too.

The best step toward preventing a heart attack is to partner with a cardiologist who can help keep your heart as healthy as possible. To learn more and schedule a heart health checkup, contact us by phone or use our online outreach form.

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