January 31, 2021

Have You Heard of These 5 Heart Attack Risk Factors?

Watch out for these lesser-known culprits

woman having chest pain while running

Most people know about common risk factors for heart attack, including smokingdiabeteshigh blood pressure, obesity and lack of exercise. These tend to be universal, meaning they can increase the risk in nearly anyone.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But there are other factors or health conditions that put certain people at risk says cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD. Let’s talk about these lesser-known risk factors and who’s likely to be affected.

1. Intense emotions

Studies have shown that both intense anger and grief can occasionally trigger a heart attack. This most likely occurs because of sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure that are triggered by strong emotions.

Because many of us experience these emotions throughout our lifetime, they are more likely to negatively impact people who are already at a greater risk for heart attack due to other traditional risk factors.

There is a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which may imitate a heart attack, but is somewhat different. It tends to occur more often in women at times of intense emotion and produces heart attack-like symptoms that can cause chest pain that is indistinguishable from a heart attack.

“It may be the result of an arterial spasm,” Dr. Nissen says. “With treatment, the heart function often returns to normal after a few weeks. Later testing generally shows little or no evidence of heart attack.”

Advertisement

2. Sudden exertion

A bout of sudden, strenuous physical activity can lead to heart attack in people who are not physically fit.

It can happen from something as seemingly harmless as a pick-up game of basketball, or from a very strenuous activity like shoveling snow.

“People who are not used to exercising, or have traditional risk factors for heart disease, are at increased risk,” Dr. Nissen says.

3. Extreme cold

Cold temperatures cause the arteries to constrict, which can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure. Combine this with physical exertion, and the strain may be too much for some hearts to take. Every year, shoveling snow sends more than 11,000 people to the hospital — at least 7% with heart trouble.

4. Eating a heavy meal

A heavy meal can occasionally trigger a heart attack. No one knows exactly why this happens, but eating does divert blood away from the heart and pushes it toward the GI tract, which be problematic for susceptible individuals.

Advertisement

If you’re at risk for heart attack, it’s a good idea to limit your caloric intake overall and avoid binging on large meals.

5. Other diseases

When you’re diagnosed with a serious medical condition that seems unrelated to your heart, the risk of heart attack might not cross your mind. For this reason, the role of certain diseases in raising the risk of heart attack is often disregarded.

However, diseases that are known to increase the risk of heart attack include:

  • Inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and any other diseases that can cause inflammation in the blood vessels.
  • Preeclampsia, which raises blood pressure.
  • Gestational diabetes, which greatly increases the risk of heart attack.
  • Sleep apnea, which causes aggressive heart disease that increases the risk of heart attack by 30% over five years.
  • Cancer of the left breast involving prior radiation to the chest, which can damage the heart.

Any person with one of these conditions should see a cardiologist, in addition to their regular doctor, Dr. Nissen says.

Related Articles

person holding hands to upper chest
January 26, 2024
How To Tell the Difference Between a Heart Attack and a Panic Attack

To help determine what you’re experiencing, focus on how the pain feels, the location of the pain, when it started and how long it lasts

close up of bottle of pills spilling onto table
January 24, 2024
Take Your Cholesterol Meds: Stopping Statins Can Cause Dangerous Side Effects

Stopping this critical medication on your own increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and more

A sad couple standing on each side of a large broken heart
December 3, 2023
Yes, You Can Die From a Broken Heart — But No, It’s Not Likely at All

The emotional toll of loss and other strong emotions can have life-threatening physical effects

Person with chest pain and hard to breathe with heart and heartbeat in background.
July 18, 2023
What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like?

Symptoms may be mild, but don’t be fooled — any heart attack is serious

Doctor listens to patient's heart during an office appointment.
April 24, 2023
Early Signs of a Heart Attack To Take Seriously

Subtle heart attack warning signs include pressure, cold sweats and fatigue

woman with chest pain
April 23, 2023
Why Does My Chest Hurt? 3 Signs It Might Not Be a Heart Attack

Not all chest discomfort is a symptom of a heart attack

Erythritol sweetener in a bowl.
March 6, 2023
Artificial Sweetener Erythritol’s Major Health Risks

This common sugar substitute is linked to heart attack and stroke

woman eating a burger
February 8, 2023
Why Are Heart Attacks on the Rise in Young People?

Sedentary lifestyles are driving up heart attack numbers in the under-40 crowd

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad