Don’t Wait for Signs of a Heart Attack to Know Your Risk

The better you know your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, family history, and other risk factors, the better you can predict your risk of heart disease---and avoid signs of a heart attack.

signs of a heart attack

Before you experience signs of a heart attack, know your blood pressure history, cholesterol levels, and other cardiovascular data.

© Diamantis Seitanidis |

For too many people, a heart attack is their first clue that they have heart disease. Or for people who perhaps knew they had risk factors for heart disease but didn’t realize how serious their condition was, symptoms or signs of a heart attack serve as late wake-up call that prevention should have been a higher priority.

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you or someone you know has already been diagnosed with some kind of heart disease. If so, hopefully you’re working with your doctor on controlling your manageable risk factors and taking other preventive steps to lower your odds of a heart attack or stroke.

But if you don’t have heart disease, but you’re concerned that you’re heading in that direction, you may want to get an idea of your long-term risk. How likely is it that you’ll develop heart disease in the next 10 years?

Fortunately, there are heart disease risk assessments that can actually calculate your 10-year risk. This information is often used by doctors in deciding on preventive treatments, such as statin or aspirin therapy. It can be helpful, experts say, to know your 10-year risk, experts say, because you can do something about it to improve; heart disease is preventable.

What Is My Risk for Heart Disease?

To get an idea how likely it is that signs of a heart attack could show up in the next 10 years, you can assemble some of your most important heart-healthy numbers and use an online calculator. For example, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) provides an online heart disease risk calculator that’s simple to use.

The information you’ll need includes:

  • Total cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Systolic blood pressure
  • Diastolic blood pressure
  • Birth date

You’ll also need to state your gender and whether you take medications for high blood pressure, have diabetes, or are a smoker. After all the information is submitted, this online tool will provide you a percentage risk for developing heart disease in the next decade.



  • Losing even a little weight, if you’re overweight, can help lower blood pressure and reduce your odds of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Reducing sodium and saturated fat in your diet may help improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • An exercise program that includes aerobic and strength training helps improve the strength of your heart, your circulation, and how efficiently your body burns calories, even when you’re not exercising.
  • See also our post “What Causes Heart Attacks—and How to Prevent Them.

Signs of a Heart Attack? Proceed with Caution

Of course, the ACC calculator and other risk assessments are impersonal and have been the subject of controversy. They don’t include important risk factors like obesity, family history of heart disease, and other conditions—stress, sleep apnea, sedentary lifestyle, and an unhealthy diet, for example—that can contribute to heart disease risk.

Ultimately, no online tool can replace a doctor’s care. A physician who assesses your complete health profile can give you direction about lifestyles choices to make and prescribe medications or other treatments to help you reduce your chances of having heart disease.

Get Moving to Avoid Signs of a Heart Attack

Fortunately, you can start today to lower your heart risks today. Skipping dessert, taking a brisk walk, and checking your blood pressure are easy steps you can take. Seeing a percentage risk, even if it’s not completely accurate, should give you some incentive to change your life.

If you’re one of those people who like numbers and like to see numbers change, living a heart-healthy life and following your doctor’s recommendations can actually help avoid signs of a heart attack. The assessment you make today may be higher than what it is a year from now. It’s certainly a goal worth pursuing.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Jay Roland

Jay Roland has been executive editor of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Mind, Mood & Memory since 2017. Previously, he held the same position with Cleveland Clinic’s Heart Advisor, since 2007. In … Read More

View all posts by Jay Roland

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