The four primary triggers for a heart attack are drugs, overeating, anger and sex – in that order.
A heart attack trigger is a factor that which explains why a heart attack occurs on a particular day or time. It is the final straw that triggers the attack and is distinct from the underlying cause, which may be a combination of smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise or being overweight.
A new ranking of these triggers shows they range from cocaine use, which increases the risk 23-fold, to a cup of coffee, which raises it 50 per cent. Some triggers lead to a big increase in risk – limited exposure reduces it.
As relatively few people take cocaine, despite the high risk to individual users, the drug triggers less than 1 per cent of all heart attacks. Coffee is widely drunk, so despite the relatively low risk to coffee drinkers, the beverage triggers one in 20 heart attacks. More than 2 per cent of heart attacks occur during or after sex (the exertion which triggers it).
If everyone stopped having sex, heart attacks could be reduced, but that is unlikely to be a popular public health message, noted Professor David Spiegelhalter yesterday.
The professor of the public understanding of risk at Cambridge University was commenting on the study by Belgian researchers, published in the Lancet. It showed that the biggest factor, in population terms, was traffic fumes, which triggers more than 7 per cent of all heart attacks.