When it comes to your chances of having a heart attack, there are numerous factors that can influence your risk. Whether you smoke, have hypertension, are overweight, have diabetes, or have a family history of heart attack are just some of the metrics that can influence whether you suffer an adverse heart event. Now, experts say there's one simple, streamlined way to predict your risk level—and it's the single best way to do so. Read on to find out how to predict your own level of heart attack risk.
A calcium test is the best way to predict your heart attack risk.
By giving you a coronary calcium scan, a type of CT scan of the heart, your doctor should be able to measure the amount of calcium in your coronary arteries. This can help reveal a build-up of atherosclerotic plaque which, if present, can lead to a higher threat of heart attack or stroke.
"A calcium score of zero means you have no calcium deposits and a low risk of heart attack in the next five years," explains Everyday Health in report reviewed by board-certified specialists. "A score of 400 or more puts you at high risk of a heart attack within 10 years; a score of 1,000-plus means you have up to a 25 percent chance of having a heart attack within a year without medical treatment."
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Doctors recommend getting a scan when you reach a certain age.
Even if you have no known heart disease symptoms or risk factors, cardiologists typically recommend that men should have a coronary calcium scan by the age of 40, as should postmenopausal women over the age of 50. This may not be necessary as long as your doctor determines you to be at a very low risk of heart attack, but broaching the topic with your medical provider around that age is a good place to start.
Your age changes the significance of your score.
How you interpret your score is influenced by your age at the time of the test, Everyday Health explains. "For instance, if you're 40 and have a score of 50, it indicates you are at high risk. If an 80-year-old has a score of 50, it indicates low risk because the atherosclerotic process has proceeded very slowly," their experts note.
If you do score high for your age, your doctor may recommend dietary changes or other lifestyle interventions to reduce your heart attack risk. In some cases, medications like statins may help improve your risk levels by lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol. In the meantime, take a moment to consult the American Heart Association's seven-point checklist of simple, at-home actions that will improve your heart health.
Calcium you eat shouldn't cause build-up, but supplements might.
The link between built-up calcium in your arteries and a high heart attack risk shouldn't stop you from eating foods rich in calcium. However, experts say you should probably consult a doctor before beginning any supplement regimens that are rich in the mineral.
According to a 2016 study published a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers from Johns Hopkins found that, "taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears to be protective."