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15 Surprising Heart Attack Risks

June 17, 2013 By RHP Staff

Heart attacks are more complicated than you might think. The risk is partially determined by the well-known factors of diet, activity level, and family history, but heart attack risk can be increased or decreased in some surprising ways a typical patient might not even consider. Take a look at these fifteen little-known possible contributors to heart attack and see if you may be increasing your risk without realizing it.

Calcium Supplements

A 2012 study in Heart indicated that people who take calcium supplements are at higher risk for heart attacks than people who don’t. The problem is not the calcium itself, but the supplements. “I tell patients to get calcium in their diet,” explains Dr. Malissa Wood, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. “Eat oily fish twice a week along with other foods that have calcium.”


Azithromycin, an antibiotic common because of its effectiveness and because it only requires five doses in one course, may be linked to increased risk of heart attack fatalities. The evidence is not yet conclusive, but patients who already have heart disease may want to discuss different antibiotics with their physicians.

Quitting Aspirin

Heart patients who want to end treatment with aspirin or other anti-inflammatories should do so gradually and under medical supervision, says Dr. Matthew Sorrentino, a University of Chicago cardiologist. The patients’ risk for heart attack is higher for at least a week after the treatment has been discontinued.

Urban Settings

Living in close proximity to high levels of traffic can actually double a person’s risk of a cardiac-related death, according to two studies. A German study found that the risk holds steady whether a person travels by car, public transit, or bicycle.


In 2001, The New England Journal of Medicine printed a study showing that people who live in low income neighborhoods are three times more likely to suffer from heart disease than people with similar income levels and lifestyles who live in more affluent areas. “It’s very true and something you can’t do much about other than change where you live or spend time in places where the air quality isn’t so toxic,” says Dr. Wood.

Relationship Problems

Valentine’s Day hearts look nothing like real hearts, but a problem in one’s love life can be a literal heartbreaker. Epidemiologists at University College London determined that relationship problems can increase heart attack risk by 34 percent.

Job Stress

Mental strain from work can increase someone’s risk of heart attack by 23 percent. A 2005 study of British government employees found that heart disease was far more likely in people who didn’t feel their opinions were valued or who felt a lack of control in decision-making processes.


The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported in 2009 that women diagnosed with depression are twice as likely to develop heart disease as their non-depressed peers. Similarly, patients who have already had one heart attack are more likely to have another if they are depressed.

Gum Disease

Poor oral health can increase cardiac risk by up to 25 percent. Scientists believe the culprit is oral bacteria, which can slip into the bloodstream by way of inflamed gums and trigger inflammation in blood vessels.

Respiratory Infections

Influenza and other respiratory infections can increase a patient’s odds of heart attack by five times during the first three days of illness. The inflammatory response brought on by the immune system’s fight against infection can create a heart attack or a stroke. Flu vaccines are particularly important for cardiac patients because they help prevent this risk.

Prostate Cancer Treatment

A 2006 Harvard study indicated a possible link between heart attack and the hormone treatments used for prostate cancer. The research has not yet proven that the link is causal, but it should be considered, particularly in determining prostate cancer treatment for patients already at increased cardiac risk.

Kidney Disease

A Dutch study found that patients who have kidney disease or weakened kidneys are at higher risk for a heart attack. An unrelated study of 10,000 men determined that men who have chronic kidney disease are twice as likely to have cardiac trouble as are their counterparts.


Along with the many other terrible health issues it brings, diabetes can increase a person’s risk of fatal heart disease by up to four times. Fortunately, the risk is lessened greatly by the exercise and healthy diet prescribed for all diabetic patients.

Autoimmune Disorders

The leading cause of death among patients with lupus, an autoimmune disorder which causes the body to attack its own cells, is heart attack. The constant activity of the immune system leads to chronic inflammation, which increases cardiac risk. Even psoriasis, which seems like a skin issue but is actually caused by immune function, can increase heart attack risk. “In certain patients, psoriasis is a risk factor for heart attack comparable to diabetes,” points out Dr. Joel M. Gelfand, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor of dermatology.

Low HDL (Good) Cholesterol

A study done by Indiana University found that low HDL cholesterol is actually the third highest predictor of heart attack risk, coming lower than only prior heart issues and age. “If young people have heart attacks, I can almost always tell you they have low HDL,” says Dr. Wood. However, HDL levels can be increased by weight loss and exercise.

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