Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are one of the leading causes of mortality in India. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Circulation, almost one-fourth of all cases of mortality in India can be attributed to cardiovascular diseases. One of the common types of cardiovascular disease is coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease (CAD). It is a condition which causes the buildup of plaque in the major arteries of the heart which can lead to heart attack. Age and family history are one of the key non-modifiable factors which can increase the risk of heart attack. However, there are certain modifiable causes of heart attack which can help you prevent and lower your risk of heart attack if known. Dr. Bipeenchandra Bhamre, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai explains common causes of heart attack.
7 Common Causes Of Heart Attack
A heart attack occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked suddenly. Most heart attacks happen as a result of CAD in which there is a buildup of a waxy substance, known as plaque, in the coronary arteries. These arteries are responsible for the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. The plaque buildup in the arteries occurs gradually over time. In some cases, the plaque can rupture which causes the formation of a blood clot, which can partially or completely block the blood flow to the heart.
If the blockage is not treated on time, it can lead to heart attack or stroke. This is because the blockage impairs the supply of oxygen to the heart muscle. As a result, the artery begins to die. This causes the healthy heart tissue to be replaced by a damaged one, which may cause severe and long-lasting effects on the heart and overall health. Hence, it is important to know the causes of heart attack and factors that increase the risk of an attack so as to do your bit to keep the heart healthy.
Some of the modifiable risk factors of a heart attack are:
1. High blood pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the common risk factors for a heart attack. High blood pressure puts excess strain on the blood vessels which over time causes constriction of the blood vessels. This impacts the blood flow to the heart and increases the risk of heart attacks. The damage increases further due to the buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the coronary arteries.
If you are over 40, it is wise to get your blood pressure checked at least once a year. For people above 50 years of age or have a family history of hypertension, it is important to check your blood pressure more frequently.
Diabetes is known as a microvascular disease, which is a condition in which the very small blood vessels in the body are affected. If your blood glucose levels are not under control, it can cause inflammation of these blood vessels, which further affects the blood flow through these vessels. As the blood flow becomes sluggish, over time it can damage the heart muscle and increase the risk of a heart attack.
If you experience any symptoms of diabetes such as excessive thirst and urination, weight gain, etc, or have a family history of diabetes, do not forget to get your blood glucose levels tested every year or as recommended by your doctor.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is necessary for the body but in excess, it can get accumulated in the blood vessels and lead to heart problems. It is one of the major causes of heart attack. Excess of cholesterol gets deposited in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This overtime blocks the blood flow to the heart either partially or completely, which in turn, causes a heart attack.
For people with a family history of heart disease, it is mandatory to get a lipid profile lab test done every year to know the blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins as it is a crucial parameter for heart health.
Smoking can also increase your risk of heart attack. When you smoke, you inhale various harmful chemicals present in cigarettes. These toxins can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, which in turn triggers the accumulation of various substances in the blood such as cholesterol, and calcium. These substances get deposited in the blood vessels, which can block the blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack.
If you smoke, the only effective way to lower your risk of heart attack is to quit smoking. Irrespective of your age and risk of heart disease, quitting smoking can significantly lower your risk of heart attack.
5. Excessive alcohol
There are very few studies which claim that red wine is good for the heart. However, excessive consumption of alcohol can put your heart at risk of a heart attack. When you drink in excess, it causes dehydration which in turn impacts the blood of flow to the heart and other organs. Moreover, alcohol can also lead to inflammation in the blood vessels, which in the long run can cause the deposition of cholesterol and calcium in the blood which makes you prone to a heart attack.
As you might be aware of, an excess of anything can have a serious consequence on your health. Hence, it is important to drink in moderation to lower the effect of alcohol on the heart and overall health.
Stress is an integral part of our day-to-day routine. Acute stress is quite common in the younger population. However, if you are under chronic stress (which means you are constantly under stress for more than a year or two), then it’s high time to take it seriously. This is because, chronic stress causes secretion of cortisol, which can significantly impact the hormonal balance in the body and lead to excess production of cholesterol which in turn may cause a heart attack.
Some of the simple and effective ways to fight stress are to indulge in a hobby, spend time with family and friends, cut down on the time spent on TV and social media, go for a mini vacation or try yoga and meditation to calm your brain. Here are more tips to de-stress.
7. Lack of exercise
The last but not the least risk factor of heart attack is lack of physical activity. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle not only become overweight and obese but are also at high risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which are known risk factors of a heart attack.
When you exercise, there is a secretion of endorphins, also known as happy hormones, which elevates your mood and keeps you happy. The skeletal muscles utilize the extra cholesterol in the body, which further lowers the level of cholesterol in the body. Moreover, exercise also increases the level of HDL cholesterol in the body, which protects the blood vessels, thereby lowering your risk of heart attack. To reap the benefits, ensure you walk at least 40 minutes every day or walk regularly to prevent a heart attack.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
1. Prabhakaran D, Jeemon P, Roy A. Cardiovascular Diseases in India: Current Epidemiology and Future Directions. Circulation. 2016 Apr 19;133(16):1605-20.