Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

New research from the American Heart Association has found that nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have some form of cardiovascular disease. Yikes! But if you eat well and exercise regularly, there’s nothing to worry about, right?

While you already know the main culprits behind heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a history of smoking—there are other unexpected risk factors that can have a big impact on your heart health, as follows:

You’re lonely: Researchers at the University of York found that people who have few social connections or who felt lonely had a 29% higher risk of heart disease and 32 percent higher risk of stroke compared to people who had—or felt like they had—lots of social relationships. Loneliness, or the stress of being alone, can cause inflammation in the body, creating conditions that can lead to heart disease, or lead to depression—another major risk factor.

Poor dental hygiene: The state of your teeth and gums are related to heart health. That’s because bleeding and inflamed gums allow bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream, where it can cause inflammation and create conditions that can lead to heart disease. Flossing is associated with a lower risk for new cardiovascular events, so be sure to brush and floss regularly and visit your dentist.

You had pregnancy complications: While what happens during your pregnancy doesn’t seem like it should influence your heart health, research shows that it may have an impact down the line. According to studies, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, eclampsia, spontaneous preterm delivery, and gestational diabetes all increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this may be the case, but if you’ve experienced any of these complications, tell your doctor about your pregnancy history and get regularly screened for diabetes and hypertension.

You’ve experienced a traumatic event: A sudden traumatic event like a death in the family or a car accident doesn’t just feel like your heart stops. It may actually cause heart trouble. Traumatic events can contribute to coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis. If you have experienced these stressful events, tell your doctor so they can monitor your heart health.

You can’t sleep at night: Lack of sleep and waking up frequently at night can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, keeping your body on high alert instead of at rest. Plus, when you’re tired, you’re less likely to keep up with healthy habits.

You live with high-blood pressure: Living with another chronic illness increases your chances of developing heart disease. That’s because many health conditions share the same risk factors with heart disease, like high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, belly fat, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol. According to a recent 2019 study, conditions such as systemic lupus erythematous, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Sojogren’s syndrome can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.

You eat lots of fried foods: You love French fries and fried chicken, fried fish, and chips. But too many fried foods can increase your risk for heart disease and death, especially in postmenopausal women over the age of 50. In a 2019 study, researchers found that women who ate fried chicken at least once a week had a 12 percent increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease compared to women who ate none. Among women who ate fried fish or shellfish once a week or more, they also had a 13 percent increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease compared to women who ate none. So, while it’s OK to enjoy some deep-fried food every once in a while, don’t make it a regular habit.

You use e-cigarettes: While e-cigarettes may be an alternative to smoking, it isn’t much better for your heart health. A 2019 study from the American Stroke Association found that people who regularly use e-cigarettes had a 71 percent higher right of stroke, 59 percent higher risk of heart attack or angina, and 40 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who never used e-cigarettes. Yikes.

You have a family history of heart disease: They say it runs in the family and with heart disease, it’s definitely true. Having a first-degree relative—parent or sibling—with heart-related problems before age 55 in male relatives and before age 65 in female relatives greatly increases your risk for a heart-related problems.

You’re depressed: Studies have found that people who are diagnosed with depression tend to be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s not 100 percent certain why this happens, but it’s thought to be because you’re less likely to take care of yourself like eat well and exercise, especially if you already have high blood pressure or other health issues.

Take Care of Yourself and Try to be Heart Healthy

Be sure to avoid the things described above and to take good care of yourself and your heart. If you feel sick and it’s not an emergency, please call us at Prosperity Internal Medicine at 703-876-9300 for an appointment. Our group uses the latest advances in medicine, offering our patients access to innovative health management technologies, proactive team-based care, and an evidenced-based, patient-centered approach.