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Know Your Risk of a Heart Attack

Smoker, fast food, couch potato, overweight? Read on!

Recently on the Neil Prendeville show on RedFM Dr Nick Flynn (IMC 21468), Medical Director at Union Quay Medical Centre, talked to Pat, age 38, who has some interesting healthcare beliefs! Pat’s lifestyle would appear to be unhealthy as he has several habits that we all know will lead to ill health including smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. These are all risks factors for developing a heart attack. Here we look briefly at how we might assess someone’s risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The risk can be divided into lifestyle risks which can be changed, treatable risks and fixed risks which we cannot alter:

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 (hypertension).
  • High cholesterol blood level.
  • High fat (triglyceride) blood level.
  • Diabetes.
  • Kidney problems causing poor kidney function.

Fixed risk factors – ones that you cannot alter:

  • A strong family history. This means if you have a father or brother who developed heart disease or a stroke before they were 55; or, if you have a mother or sister who developed heart disease or a stroke before they were 65.
  • Being male.
  • An early menopause in women.
  • Age. The older you become, the more likely you are to develop a heart attack or stroke.
  • Ethnic group. For example, people who live in Ireland with ancestry from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka have an increased risk.

However, if you have a fixed risk factor, you may want to make extra effort to tackle any lifestyle risk factors that can be changed. It is worth noting that some risk factors are more risky than others. For example, smoking probably causes a greater risk to health than obesity does. Also, risk factors interact. So, if you have two or more risk factors, your health risk is much more increased than if you just have one. For example, an Oxford study found that men aged 50 who smoke, have high cholesterol and have high blood pressure (hypertension), die, on average, 10 years earlier than men who do not have these risk factors. Research is looking at some other factors that may be risk factors. For example, stress and socio-economic status, are being investigated as possible risk factors.

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