Dear doctor, what can I do to lower the risk of a heart attack?

21 February 2019

Q: I have a family history of heart problems and am worried about suffering from a heart attack myself. I exercise regularly and only drink on a Friday - is there anything else I can do to lower the risk?

A: Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are diseases of the heart or blood vessels that are caused by atheroma (fatty plaques that develop within the inside lining of blood vessels). They are the leading cause of disease and death in the UK.

A family history of certain heart problems is a well known risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. Other established risk factors include the following:

Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity
  • An unhealthy diet and eating too much salt
  • Excess alcohol

Treatable or partly treatable risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol level
  • High blood fat (triglyceride) level
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Fixed risk factors you cannot alter:

  • A strong family history
  • Being male
  • Severe baldness in men at the top of the head
  • Early menopause in women
  • Age: the older you become, the more likely you are to develop atheroma
  • Ethnicity: people who live in the UK with ancestry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka

There are now a number of well established cardiovascular 'risk calculators,' whereby following a detailed history and some simple measurements, your cardiovascular health risk score can be calculated. The score gives a fairly accurate indication of your risk of developing CVD over the next 10 years and can be calculated by your GP.

While everyone should aim to reduce their risk of developing CVD by tackling lifestyle risk factors, based on your calculated risk, there are also a number of treatments available to further reduce the risk. These treatments are specifically aimed at addressing the treatable risk factors, and are usually offered to people at moderate or high risk.

If you have significant risk factors for CVD that you are concerned about, you should consult your GP or be reviewed by a heart specialist.

Dr Ali Dana is a Consultant Cardiologist practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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