Could Your Pulse Predict Your Heart Attack Risk?

A simple, inexpensive way to predict a woman's risk for a future heart attack may be just a fingertip away. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, a woman's resting pulse rate is a good measurement of her heart attack risk regardless of other risk factors, including smoking and alcohol consumption.

The study results are based on an analysis of data from 129,135 postmenopausal women with no history of heart problems enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative. The women were monitored for nearly eight years. During that time, there were 2,281 heart attacks and coronary deaths and 1,877 strokes recorded.

Trained personnel recorded the women's resting heart rates after the women sat "quietly" for five minutes. The study found that the women with the highest resting heart rate--more than 76 beats per minute--were significantly more likely to experience a coronary event than those volunteers with the lowest resting heart rate-62 beats per minute or less.

Additional analysis of the data revealed that the association between a woman's resting pulse rate and her risk for a heart attack was the same regardless of other factors, such as level of physical activity, race, whether the woman had diabetes or not or had high blood pressure. What did seem to make a difference was age: the relationship between resting heart rate and coronary risk was greater in women ages 50 to 64 than among women 65 or older.

If you're concerned about your risk for a heart attack, talk to your doctor about how you can reduce your risk factors. While there are some risk factors you can't control, such as increasing age or family history, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of having a coronary event, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Increasing physical activity-The American Heart Association suggests getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
  • Reducing high blood pressure-Aim for 120/80 or lower.
  • Lowering high blood cholesterol-Having a total blood cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL is optimal. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight-Obesity and being overweight puts you at greater risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption-Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol (more than one drink for women per day) can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, heart failure and stroke.