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Am I at risk of a heart attack?

 In Ask an Expert, Cardiology, Pulse Blog

Q: How do I know if I might have a heart attack?

A heart attack is caused when a blood clot forms in an artery and prevents blood from flowing through. Researchers used to believe that heart attacks happened primarily to people whose arteries had narrowed due to plaque buildup. Now they know that plaque can also build up inside the artery wall, leading to inflammation. At some point, this “vulnerable plaque” can rupture, spilling into the bloodstream and causing a clot.

There are multiple risk factors for heart attacks, including:

  • Age
  • Cigarette use
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Abnormal cholesterol
  • Vascular disease
  • Family history of early heart disease.

If you are concerned about the potential of having a heart attack, your physician can review your risk factors and choose from multiple types of tests to help evaluate your heart health. These include an ECG, echocardiogram, stress test, calcium score, CAT scan, and coronary angiogram.

Depending on your risk, you may benefit from an antiplatelet medication such as aspirin, and a cholesterol medication (e.g. statins). Aspirin prevents formation of a clot in the arteries supplying the heart muscles. Statins lower the risk of plaque rupture as well as limit its progression. A cardiologist is the best person to help you assess your individual heart attack risk and determine whether medications are right for you.

—Dipesh Pokharel, MD

Dr. Dipesh Pokharel is a cardiologist at Vancouver Clinic. He is board certified in nuclear cardiology and echocardiography. Dr. Pokharel is dedicated to helping patients prevent, manage, and understand cardiovascular diseases.

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