Surprising Heart Attack Risks

Guys: Your hair, or lack of it, can reveal hidden heart attack risks, according to startling new research presented at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions.

In fact, baldness or a receding hairline can signal greater heart attack danger than having high cholesterol or high blood pressure, the researchers reported. The study found that people (particularly men) with three of the following visible signs of aging were at 57 percent higher risk for a heart attack and 39 percent higher risk for heart disease, compared to people the same age without these warning signs:

  • Receding hair at the temples
  • A bald spot at the top or back of the head
  • Earlobe creases
  • Yellowish fatty deposits on the eyelid (known as xanthelasmata)

Danish researchers analyzed health data from nearly 11,000 men and women ages 40 and older. During 35 years of follow-up, 3,041 participants developed heart disease and 1,708 suffered a heart attack. Both individually and combined, the four signs predicted heart attack and heart disease danger independently from other risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, or high cholesterol.

Related: 7 Warning Signs of Heart Attacks

Of the four signs, fatty deposits around the eyes were the strongest predictor and the danger rose with each additional characteristic. Earlier studies have also found a link between a diagonal earlobe crease and plaque buildup in the arteries.

“The visible signs of aging reflect physiologic or biological age, not chronological age, and are independent of chronological age,” said Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, M.D., the study’s senior author and professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, in a news release.

To find out more about surprising heart disease red flags, I talked to Amy Doneen, ARNP, medical director of the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center in Spokane, Washington. In a recent presentation to healthcare providers, she highlighted these little known cardiovascular risk factors for men:

Gum Disease

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. The American Heart Association has identified gum disease as an independent risk factor for heart disease in a 2012 scientific statement. One in three adults over 30 have gum disease and millions of them don’t know it. Ask your dentist to evaluate your oral health, advises Doneen.

Related: Top 10 Health Risks for Men

Snoring

 Frequent loud snoring can trumpet obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a dangerous disorder that lifts heart attack and stroke risk if untreated, cautions Doneen. 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 healthcare provider to order a sleep study.

Being Single

It’s a bit of a mystery, but bachelors are much more likely to have a heart attackand much more likely to die as a resultthan married men. A study from Finland that mined data on more than 15,000 people who had heart attacks between 1993 and 2002 found that bachelors were 58 percent to 66 percent more likely to have a heart attack—and were 60 percent to 168 percent more likely to die as a resultthan married men. The researchers couldn’t say why single guys (and gals) fared so poorly, but suggested that married couples may lead healthier lives, be better off financially than singles, and have more health-promoting social support. Wedding bells, anyone? 

Secondhand Smoke

Passive exposure to tobacco fumes is more dangerous to the heart than high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure, a new study found. Non-smokers with the greatest exposure to secondhand smoke were 90 percent more likely to have heart disease than the general population. The study is the first to show a clear link between the amount of passive smoke exposure and early signs of heart disease, demonstrating that being around smokers is more hazardous than was previously believed. 

Migraine Headaches

In a study that tracked 20,084 men for nearly 16 years, researchers found that male migraine sufferers had a 42 percent higher risk for heart attack. A new study also linked migraines with aura (visual symptoms, such as seeing flashing lights before the headache kicks in) to increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots in women. In the new study, which included nearly 28,000 women, only high blood pressure was a more powerful predictor of cardiovascular danger. However, it’s not yet known if treating migraines reduces heart disease risk, Doneen reports.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

Guys, do you know that sexual problems can mean you that you have a broken heart—literally? Several studies show that ED can be a stronger predictor of heart attack risk than your family history, smoking, or high cholesterol. In fact, says Doneen, some healthcare providers now consider ED, which affects about 30 million American men, to be a “leading indicator” of heart disease in men. Guys in their 40s with ED have nearly 50 times greater risk for developing clogged arteries that can lead to a heart attack than do men the same age without ED, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

Related: Erectile Dysfunction Causes & Treatments

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