A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood flow. Every moment the muscle is denied blood, the likelihood of long-term damage to the heart increases.

Heart attacks can be fatal. Who is more likely to get a heart attack, and how can you reduce the odds that you’ll have a heart attack?

The following facts and statistics can help you:

  • learn more about the condition
  • estimate your risk level
  • recognize the warning signs of a heart attack

CAD is caused by plaque buildup (made of cholesterol deposits and inflammation) in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart.

Plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time, which can block blood flow. Or, the cholesterol deposits can spill into the artery and cause a blood clot.

A complete blockage of a coronary artery means you experienced a “STEMI” heart attack, or ST-elevation myocardial infarction.

A partial blockage is called an “NSTEMI” heart attack, or a non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction.

About 18.2 million adults ages 20 and older have CAD (about 6.7%). You can also have CAD without knowing it.

It’s the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

This includes:

  • African American
  • American Indian
  • Alaska Native
  • Hispanic
  • white men

Heart disease is second only to cancer for women from the Pacific Islands and Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native, and Hispanic women.

Of these, 605,000 are a first heart attack and 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack.

From 2014 to 2015, heart disease cost the United States about $219 billion each year. This includes the costs for:

  • health care services
  • medications
  • lost productivity due to early death

This younger group is likely to share traditional risk factors for heart attacks, including:

  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • smoking

Substance use disorders, including marijuana and cocaine use, may also be factors. Younger people who had heart attacks were more likely to report overusing these substances.

The most common symptoms are:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • feeling weak, lightheaded, or faint
  • pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
  • pain or discomfort in one or both arms or the shoulder
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating or nausea

Women are more likely to experience symptoms such as:

  • “atypical” chest pain — not the classic sensation of chest pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • back pain
  • jaw pain

Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions, such as atherosclerosis and heart attack.

High blood pressure occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high and can cause the arteries to stiffen.

You can lower your blood pressure with lifestyle changes like reducing sodium intake or taking medication to reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods.

Extra cholesterol can build up in artery walls, causing them to become narrow and decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, and other parts of the body.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and produce an irregular heartbeat.

Try to limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.


Large day-to-day swings in temperature were associated with significantly more heart attacks in a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session.

Given that some climate models link extreme weather events with global warming, the new findings suggest climate change could, in turn, lead to an uptick in the occurrence of heart attacks.

Adults who report puffing e-cigarettes, or vaping, are significantly more likely to have a heart attack compared with those who don’t use them.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that mimic the experience of smoking a cigarette.

A recent study found that compared with nonusers, e-cigarette users were 56 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 30 percent more likely to have a stroke.

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds.

About 20 percent of adults ages 45 and older who have had a heart attack will have another one within 5 years.

We can manage our lifestyle choices, but genetic or age-related risk factors can’t be controlled.

These include:

  • increasing age
  • being a member of the male sex
  • heredity

Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease themselves.

Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • beta-blockers, which decrease the heart rate and cardiac output
  • antithrombotics, which prevent blood clots
  • statins, which reduce cholesterol and inflammation

Experts recommend:

  • quitting smoking, if you smoke
  • adopting a healthy diet
  • lowering high blood pressure
  • reducing stress

Making these lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing CAD and having a heart attack.