You want to reduce your risk of a heart attack. To begin with you stop smoking, lay off the double bacon cheeseburgers, and avoid the chocolate chip cookies. You start walking more than the usual daily amount from your car to the McDonalds entrance. You treat your high blood pressure and elevated lipids. You get a treadmill test and after a week of recovery from the 10 minutes you spent on that treadmill, find out that thank God you don’t need immediate bypass surgery.
Can you still have a heart attack? The answer is unfortunately yes. Even if you do every recommended treatment, the risk falls, but not to zero. Genetics, that awful force which gave you great Aunt Betty’s massive behind, also offers other nice presents: Risk for many diseases including heart disease.
True, scientists are just discovering that genes can be turned on and off (epigenetics) and you silently pray that the heart disease one stays forever quiet.
Not only that but there are other less known causes of heart attacks. Any condition which causes chronic inflammation such as autoimmune diseases (think rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, inflammatory bowel disease), can increase your risk. HIV, which leads to a weakened immune system does the same. Migraines not only cause headaches, they also can cause the arteries to be inflamed and this is perhaps why migraine sufferers have a greater risk of heart attacks. Not flossing your teeth may irritate your gums and somehow this can also increase your risk.
Being married (for some counterintuitive) reduces your risk. So too does having a dog. Yet working night shifts or not getting enough sleep is not good for your heart.
What can you do? Follow your doctor’s recommendations, eat healthy, exercise regularly, take those pills which your doctor recommends and have parents with little risk factors for heart attacks. Well, maybe also take a deep breath and enjoy life!