When is Chest Pain Serious?

When should you run to the ER?

Rob Lamberts, MD,
February 17, 2010
Episode #035

Page 3 of 4

What are the Risk Factors for a Heart Attack?

The other major things to consider when determining whether your chest pain is heart-related an emergency are the risk factors.  It’s a big difference when a 20-year-old woman comes in with chest pain than when it’s a 50-year-old male diabetic who smokes.  The risk factors for heart attacks include:

Age – risk for heart attacks begins to rise for men at age 40 and women at 50.  It can still happen below that age, but it’s a lot less likely.

Sex – men are at higher risk than women, although the disease still kills a huge number of women each year.

Genetics – if a member of your immediate family has coronary heart disease, your risk is substantially higher. That risk is especially high if that family member is a man under 50 or a woman under 60

Smoking – people often think of smoking as a danger to the lungs (which it is), but the biggest risk of death from smoking is from heart attacks.  I recommend my patients who smoke quit and take up something safer, like tightrope walking, javelin catching, or training pit bulls. 

Hypertension and diabetes – Having these diseases also increase risk.

High cholesterol – this is a complex subject, so please refer to my article on cholesterol to get an accurate picture.

The more of these risk factors there are, the more seriously you should take the pain.  I will take a high-risk person with atypical symptoms more seriously than a low-risk person with classic symptoms. 


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