First heart attack or stroke risk is decreased in patients using cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. Statins were effective at reducing the risk of death, heart attack, and stroke among people with various risk factors. The benefits of statins were greatest for people facing the highest risk of heart attacks and stroke. Even still, those with the lowest risk of a heart attack and stroke still benefitted from the statins’ preventative effects.
Compared to a placebo, statins were not associated with an increased risk of muscle pain or myopathy, cognitive decline, or liver damage. There wasn’t a higher risk of diabetes either, though higher dose statins did raise the risk in one trial. Lastly, another trial identified a higher risk of cataract surgery.
The study reviewed 19 clinical trials comparing statin use to placebos in participants with no prior heart attack or stroke. The study subjects did have risk factors for either condition, though, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.
Lead author of the study Roger Chou explained, “We found that all groups studied experienced a decrease in risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or death, and those at highest risk benefitted the most from cholesterol-lowering drugs… The majority of the trials used fixed, moderate doses of statins. The number of trials analyzed, including data from the recent HOPE 3 trial with 12,705 participants, provides much needed insight into the value of statin therapy in preventing a first heart attack or stroke, and associated deaths.”
The review was commissioned in order to develop guidelines on statin use among patients with risk factors for stroke or heart attack.
Heart attack risk factors
Risk factors for a heart attack include age, tobacco, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels, diabetes, family history of heart attack, lack of physical activity, and stress. Here’s how you can manage these risk factors and thus reduce your risk of a heart attack.
Stop smoking: Not only does smoking increase your risk of a heart attack, but it can hinder your recovery, too. Although smoking cessation may be difficult, it’s important that you quit, no matter how many years you’ve been smoking for.
Watch what you’re eating: A healthy diet can go a long way in promoting heart health. Eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, limiting saturated and trans fats, and eliminating processed foods can provide your body with essential nutrients it needs in order to keep your heart healthy. Not only that, but a healthy diet can also help control many risk factors that contribute to a heart attack, helping to maintain a healthy weight, reducing LDL cholesterol, and even managing your diabetes or blood pressure.
Manage cholesterol: Reducing your LDL cholesterol is an important step in heart attack prevention, because this type of cholesterol is what forms plaques along the arteries, causing them to become stiff and narrow. When this occurs, blood flow gets reduced, contributing to a heart attack. Ensuring your cholesterol is in check can help keep your heart healthy and save it from damage.
Lower high blood pressure: Blood pressure is the amount of pressure exerted against the artery walls. High blood pressure signals that your heart is working too much. An overworked heart becomes weak over time and can get damaged. This damage can lead to a heart attack. Many lifestyle changes that work to prevent a heart attack can also work to control healthy blood pressure levels. Reduce your salt intake, exercise regularly, and, of course, don’t smoke.
Exercise regularly: Regular exercise keeps your heart strong, helps you maintain a healthy weight, reduces blood pressure, and lowers cholesterol. It only takes a few sessions a week doing anything active really, from brisk walking to more vigorous activities. The key is to maintain consistency. Numerous studies have shown the detrimental effects of living a sedentary lifestyle, including early death. Therefore, it is highly important that you move as much as possible.
Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese has been tied to various health problems, from diabetes to heart issues. Following these lifestyle tips can help maintain a healthy weight, too.
Manage diabetes: Diabetes is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. Type 2 diabetes is a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Unmanaged blood sugar can lead to complications, from nerve damage to vision problems. Following these healthy lifestyle tips can help you better manage your diabetes all the while preventing a heart attack.
Reduce stress: Numerous studies have shown a link between heart disease and stress. When we are stressed, cortisol is released. In the short term, this is a natural “fight or flight” response to help the body get out of dangerous situations. In the long term, excessive levels of this hormone can have detrimental effects on the heart and bodily functions. Finding healthy ways to minimize and reduce stress can help promote a healthy heart.
Limit alcohol: Although some studies have shown the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, many more point to the fact that it is harmful to the heart. Drinking too much alcohol has been linked to higher blood pressure, heart attack, cancer, and stroke, among other diseases. If you do drink, limit your daily consumption to two glasses for men and one glass for women, but for some people, even drinking the allowed dosage every day can be too much. Also, if you are going to choose an alcoholic beverage, stick with red wine, as that has been shown to offer some benefits.