A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked. The blockage is most often a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart.
The plaque eventually breaks away and forms a clot. The interrupted blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, can be fatal, but treatment has improved dramatically over the years. It’s crucial to call emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack.
Below are some unexpected heart attack triggers:
Lack of sleep
You will feel grumpy and tired if you don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, but it can raise your risk of a heart attack, too. In one study, researchers found that people who usually slept fewer than 6 hours a night were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who slept 6 to 8 hours.
Doctors aren’t sure exactly why this is, but they know that losing sleep can raise your blood pressure and lead to inflammation. Neither of those is good for your heart.
People who get migraine headaches are more likely to have a heart attack later in life than those who don’t. And ones that include auras strange sights, sounds, or feelings that start before the headache hits seem to have a stronger link to heart problems.
It’s a shock to the system. Being outside in the cold can cause your arteries to narrow, making it harder for blood to reach your heart. On top of that, your heart has to work harder to keep your body warm. If you are concerned about it, play it smart in cold temperatures, and limit heavy physical activity.
Air pollution and car exhaust
Heart attacks are more common when air pollution levels are high. People who breathe dirty air on a regular basis are more likely to have clogged arteries and heart disease. Sitting in traffic may be especially dangerous, because it can combine car fumes with anger or frustration.
Big, heavy meals
Think twice before going back for seconds or thirds when eating, it may hurt more than your waistline. When you eat large amounts of food in one sitting, it leads to higher levels of the stress hormone nor epinephrine in your body. That can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, and it may trigger heart attacks in some people. Very fatty meals can also cause a sudden jump in a kind of fat in your blood, and that may temporarily damage some blood vessels as well.
Negative or positive strong emotions
Anger, grief, and stress are known triggers of heart problems, but joyful events can sometimes lead to a heart attack as well. It can be triggered by the kind of emotions that go along with a surprise birthday party, a wedding, or the birth of a grandchild.
Sudden or intense exertion
Getting in shape will protect your heart in the long run, but doing too much could be dangerous. About 6% of heart attacks are triggered by extreme physical effort. And while you have probably heard that exercise is a good way to relieve stress, it’s especially important not to overdo it when you are angry or upset.
When your immune system fights off a bug, it can cause inflammation that can damage your heart and arteries. In one study, people with respiratory infections were twice as likely to have a heart attack. But their risk level went back to normal after they had been clear of the infection a few weeks.
Your chances of having a heart attack go up about 70% if you have this lung disease. Even if you use an inhaler to keep it under control, your risk is still higher than normal. Because of your asthma, you also may tend to ignore chest tightness, which can be an early sign of a heart attack. Doctors don’t know if breathing problems trigger heart attacks or if they simply have a common cause: inflammation.
Getting out of bed in the morning
Heart attacks are more common in the morning. Your brain floods your body with hormones to help you wake up, and that puts some extra stress on your heart. You may also be dehydrated after a long sleep, which can make your heart work harder, too.
Natural or manmade disasters
Studies have shown that heart attack rates go up after major disasters like earthquakes or terrorist attacks. And not just immediately following them, but even up to a few years later. You may not be able to avoid these kinds of situations, but you can do things to manage your stress afterward, like make sure you get enough rest and exercise.
Like many forms of exercise, sexual activity has been linked to an increase in heart attack risk. But it’s a very small one, especially if you are physically fit and in good health. For most people, sex can and should be an important and healthy part of life. But talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
Just like alcohol, coffee has its pluses and minuses. Caffeine makes your blood pressure go up for a short time, and that can trigger an attack, especially if you don’t drink it regularly or are at risk for other reasons. Although, coffee seems to be good for your heart, people who have 3 to 5 cups a day tend to have less plaque in their arteries and that’s a good thing.
Playing sports can possibly trigger a heart attack and watching them can, too. In 2006, heart attacks in Germany spiked during the national team’s World Cup soccer games.
A drink a day seems to help protect your heart against disease, but heavy drinking may do just the opposite. Over time, that can raise your blood pressure, increase certain kinds of bad cholesterol, and lead to weight gain, all of which can hurt your heart. There also can be short-term consequences: A single night of binge drinking can raise your risk of heart attack over the next week, according to one study.