Risk Factors for Heart Attack and Blood Vessel Diseases

A heart attack is mostly preceded by a blood vessel disease that is called arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Arteriosclerosis can lead to circulatory disorders as well as to a complete blockage of the arteries and circulation, depending on the degree of the condition. In this case, arteriosclerosis of the coronary vessels, known as coronary heart disease (CHD), may result in a heart attack.

Controllable risk factors are often related to a person’s lifestyle.
These factors are:

• high blood pressure
• smoking
• elevated cholesterol
• diabetes mellitus
• physical inactivity
• overweight
• stress

Uncontrollable risk factors are:

• age
• gender
• family history

Controllable Risk Factors

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for a heart attack and is defined by repeated blood pressure values over 140/90 mmHg.
It is often present for a long time without noticeable symptoms or discomfort. However, even in this time without symptoms and discomfort high blood pressure damages the body massively since it causes arteriosclerosis of all vessels including the coronary vessels.


Smoking increases the risk of a heart attack exponentially compared to non-smokers and is one of the most dangerous risk factors.
Cigarette smoke causes and increases arteriosclerosis and blood vessel disease at the same time in various ways. There are no differences between men and women in this respect.
Giving up smoking can reduce this high risk so that it can be compared to the risk level of a person who has never smoked.

Elevated Cholesterol

Cholesterol belongs to the category of blood fats. Cholesterol is absorbed with food and is also produced by the body itself. The blood cholesterol can be divided into subgroups, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is considered “bad” cholesterol because it contributes significantly to the development of arteriosclerosis and the risk of a heart attack increases considerably. HDL cholesterol has a protective effect against arteriosclerosis and is regarded as “good” cholesterol.
Elevated cholesterol exists when blood levels are over 200 mg/dl. The value of LDL cholesterol should not exceed 150 mg/dl and the value of HDL cholesterol should not be lower than 40 mg/dl.


Elevated blood sugar, a symptom of diabetes, damages the body’s blood vessels directly and causes arteriosclerosis.
Overweight, high blood pressure and elevated blood fats are conditions that often occur together with diabetes. These factors alone promote the development of arteriosclerosis considerably.
Together with elevated blood sugar levels, the probability of developing heart and blood vessel diseases rises significantly.
The risk of a heart attack grows the longer the patient has the disease and depends on the quality of long-term blood sugar regulation as well as the treatment of coexisting diseases.

Overweight and Physical Inactivity

Overweight occurs mostly when the calorie intake exceeds the calorie requirements of the body.
Physical inactivity itself lowers the basal metabolic rate by reducing the muscle cells of the body and thus, supports overweight.
Overweight is mostly found along with elevated blood fats, a diabetic metabolic condition and elevated blood pressure.
All these factors promote the development of arteriosclerosis and together increase the risk of a heart attack significantly.


Prolonged stress related to feeling overstrained, anger and insufficient relaxation leads to a continuous increase of stress hormones in the blood.
In the long run, this can cause arteriosclerosis and damage to the blood vessels which raises the risk of a heart attack.

Uncontrollable Factors


The risk of a heart attack increases with age because of cardiovascular diseases, which are caused by the natural aging process of the blood vessels and changes in their tissue structure.
It is also possible to develop other diseases that lead to arteriosclerosis and heart attacks because people live longer.


Men develop heart diseases on average 10 years earlier than women do.
The female sex hormone, estrogen seems to have a protective effect. After menopause, this effect is lost so that heart attacks become one of the most common causes of death in women over 65.

Family History

People whose family has a history of heart attacks and blood vessel diseases, especially in young ages,   are more at risk to develop these diseases, even if other risk factors are not present.
Nowadays, family history is regarded as an independent risk factor on its own.