New research is revealing surprising
triggers for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of
Americans. Being aware of these
lesser-known risk factors, and taking the right steps to combat them, could greatly
reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke. Here’s a guide to 7 hidden CVD
risks and how to protect yourself.
Risk #1: Watching TV. Couch potatoes beware: Too much TV can be
fatal, a study reported in February. People who devoted more than four hours a
day to screen-based entertainment—mainly watching the tube—during their leisure
hours have more than twice the risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular
events over a four-year period, compared to those who spent less than two hours
a day in front of a screen. Another compelling reason to limit screen time:
People who spent the most time watching TV had a 50 percent higher risk of
dying prematurely from any cause, even if they also exercised.
Risk #2: Snoring. Frequent loud snoring can trumpet obstructive
sleep apnea (OSA), a dangerous disorder that lifts heart attack and stroke
risk, if untreated. OSA (bouts of interrupted breathing during sleep) often
goes undiagnosed because people aren’t aware of the symptoms, which include
waking at night for no apparent reason and unexplained daytime drowsiness. If
you fit this profile, ask your doctor to order a sleep study. Because OSA
mainly affects people who are heavy, treatment typically involves weight loss
and in some cases, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a device that
blows moist, heated air into your nose and mouth while you sleep.
Risk #3: Gum disease. Brushing and flossing regularly could head off
a heart attack. People with periodontal (gum) disease are nearly twice as
likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums. That’s because the
same bacteria that cause gum disease can also spark inflammation inside the
body, damaging blood vessels. One in three adults over 30 have gum disease and
millions of them don’t know it. Ask your dentist to check your gums. A recent
study found that periodontal treatment also improves blood vessel health—giving
you a lot to smile about.
Risk #4: Psoriasis. Here’s the real heartbreak of psoriasis: It
hikes the risk for heart attacks, stroke, and peripheral artery disease
(clogged vessels in the legs) as much as smoking does. Blame inflammation,
which triggers the dry scaly patches, itching and burning of this chronic skin
disorder. (Joints and organs can also be affected.) Some studies suggest that
aggressively treating psoriasis may trim CVD risk.
Risk #5: Migraines. Women who have migraine headaches with an aura
(visual disturbances, such as flashing lights) at least once a week have
quadruple the risk for stroke. One surprising theory: These headaches are
linked to a common defect called patent foramen ovale (PFO), in which a hole
between the heart’s two upper chambers that normally closes at birth remains
open, sometimes leading to blood clots. Experts advise women who have migraines
with aura to avoid birth control pills, which raise blood clot risk. One in
four Americans have PFO, which is tied to increased stroke risk, particularly
in those under age 55. To reduce the
threat, people with PFO or migraines should follow the same heart-smart steps
as everyone else, including shunning smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.
Risk #6: Vitamin D deficiency. Up
to 50 percent of Americans have low levels of the sunshine vitamin, doubling
their risk for heart attack and stroke. A relaxing solution: Sit in the sun and
sip wine. The sun’s rays stimulate your body to produce vitamin D, while a
recent study reports that drinking two 6.8 ounce glasses of wine a day raises
women’s levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers inflammatory markers. Men
get similar benefits at a slightly higher level of consumption.
Risk #7: Pregnancy complications. Gestational diabetes, third
trimester bleeding, or birthing a baby who is small for gestational dates can
foreshadow future heart disease and strokes, warn new American Heart
Association guidelines for women. Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during
pregnancy) doubles risk for CVD and dangerous clotting in veins during the five
to 15 years after pregnancy. The AHA advises at least 150 minutes of moderate
exercise per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise), plus a diet rich in
fiber and low in fat, salt and sugar.