Heart attacks and your health

Back to heart attack
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack - also called a myocardial infarction (MI) - is when part of the heart muscle gets damaged or dies because it isn’t getting enough blood. This is usually because of a blocked artery in the heart.
Why are heart attacks a concern?
Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women in Colorado and in the United States. Every year about 1.2 million Americans have a first or recurrent heart attack, and about 1 in 3 of these people die, according to the American Heart Association.
What is known about heart attacks and the environment?
The primary risk factors for heart attack are due to lifestyle and genetics, but many studies have found that environmental air pollution also increases risk of heart attack. Even though air pollution is not one of the primary risk factors for heart attack it is still a concern because so many people are exposed to air pollution throughout their lives.
There are many kinds of air pollution, but particulate matter air pollution seems to be especially damaging to the heart and lungs. Sources of this type of air pollution include traffic, power plants, industrial combustion, metal processing and construction activities. There are also natural sources including windblown soil, forest fires and molds.
Who is at risk?
There are many things that put people at risk for heart attack. According to the American Heart Association:
  • Men are at greater risk than women
  • Risk increases with age
  • People with a family history of heart disease are at increased risk
Some major risk factors can be modified through lifestyle choices and/or medication. These risk factors include:
  • Smoking
  • Excess weight/obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Physical Inactivity

People who have diabetes, heart disease or respiratory problems, elderly people, and lower socioeconomic communities might be at increased risk of heart attack due to particulate air pollution. Know the warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
  • Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

If you suspect a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

How can risk be reduced?
The best ways to reduce risk of heart attack are to quit smoking, lose weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise.
People at high risk for heart attack are advised to avoid strenuous activity in areas with elevated particulate air pollution – for example, not to jog along a busy street.
How are heart attacks tracked?
The Tracking Network uses admissions data from hospitals. The hospitals report how many admissions they have due to heart attack.