Heart attacks are common in people who exhibit certain risk factors or live certain lifestyles—poor diets, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, etc.—but for those who don’t partake in any of these known behaviors nor have any medical predisposition to heart disease, it can be puzzling as to why they might suffer a heart anomaly.

For years, medical professionals relied on stress tests, ultrasounds, and simple blood tests to measure a patient’s risk. It was believed that such tests could predict whether someone might experience a heart attack. We, as professionals, believed they were the best indicators available; then reality hit us. People with no predisposition were suffering heart attacks and proved our best guesses were simply that—guesses.

The reality is the tests we administered were the best we had. As the saying goes, “When you know better, you do better.” Ultrasounds, stress tests, and bloodwork were the best we had at the time. Today, however, scientists and medical professionals have better tools in their arsenal. Tests have become more in-depth. Standards of measure have improved. What we know about the human body has changed drastically. We are now better equipped to recognize and, ideally, prevent or predict a heart anomaly in otherwise healthy people.

On paper, so to speak, a patient can present healthy, but now we know to look for underlying, not previously detected inconsistencies that may contradict what we believe we know on the surface. Beyond that, we now have the tools to look at arteries with noninvasive measures and find clogs and plaque build-up.

Diseased arteries can no longer remain hidden, provided doctors make the effort to find potential issues and patients keep the lines of communication open with their healthcare providers. That being said, a build-up in arteries is not the only risk factor to be monitored. Quite commonly, the reason behind many heart attacks is inflammation of the arterial walls. This inflammation can destabilize plaque, causing the plaque to rupture and tear the blood vessel lining.

My recommendation is that patients be proactive about their heart health. Know your risk factors. Ask questions. Press for more in-depth testing to help identify cardiovascular disease.

Here are a few important factors to consider regarding your risk of a heart attack:

  • Know if you have a genetic predisposition to cardiovascular events. Ask your doctor about metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of abnormalities that increase your risk of cardiovascular issues. Have them determine what your risk factors are.
  • Discuss an imaging test that can determine if you have plaque in your arteries.
  • Ask for an insulin resistance screening.
  • Measure your waist circumference. There is a direct correlation between the size of your waist and your risk of heart attack or stroke. A measurement above 35 inches for women and above 40 for men could be an early indicator of a problem.

The bottom line is to know where you stand so you can create a plan to help reverse some of the damage or prevent any issues from arising.

By Robert Klein