5 Surprising Reasons You’re More Likely To Have A Heart Attack

Eating a lousy diet and spending too much time in couch-potato mode are surefire ways to raise your risk of having a heart attack. But there are other less obvious factors that may be contributing to the 1.5 million heart attacks—and 500,000 deaths—that occur each year. Here are five you’re probably not familiar with, along with easy ways to sidestep their risk and keep your ticker ticking.

Your skin is scaly.

The effects of psoriasis may be more than skin deep: Studies show the risk of developing heart disease is two to three times greater in people with this skin problem. The common denominator is inflammation, says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.

“The same chronic inflammation that’s in the skin [of people with psoriasis] can also damage arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” says Gohara. Meanwhile, people with this autoimmune disorder seem to have a proclivity toward high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes (aka metabolic syndrome), which also puts your heart in danger.

If you have psoriasis, make sure your doctor takes a comprehensive approach to treatment. “Dermatologists can’t just give patients a cream anymore,” Gohara explains. “Now it’s about counseling on weight management and cholesterol management and encouraging patients to go to their primary care doctor, when in many cases they haven’t.” Prompt treatment is key, since, according to a new study, each year people live with psoriasis is associated with a 1% increase in the future risk of heart attacks and stroke. One silver lining: Some psoriasis treatments reduce cardiovascular risk.

You breathe in polluted air.

Smog is linked to a slew of medical maladies, including heart disease. One study found cumulative exposure can worsen blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease, while another study discovered pollution can reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol after even brief periods of exposure. It’s not just older folks with health issues who have to worry either; research in Circulation Research reported blood vessel damage and inflammation among young, healthy adults exposed to indoor air pollution. (Psst! These 7 heart tests could save your life.)

That said, you’re not automatically doomed if you live in a smoggy city: Recent research shows that running the AC while commuting reduces pollutants in the car by up to 34%. When you’re indoors at home or in your office, use an air purifier; a new study in the journal Circulation shows that using one lowered the level of indoor fine particulate matter an average of 82% compared to sham purifiers. You might also want to consider taking fish oil supplements. A study from the EPA and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences found that omega-3 fish oil supplements lowered people’s susceptibility to the effects of toxic outdoor air pollution.

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When you’re feeling achy or have a fever, it’s natural to reach for an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like ibuprofen or naproxen. But a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that people taking these meds when they had a respiratory infection had a 3.4-fold increased risk for heart attack.

The exact reason for the link is unclear, but there may be several potential issues that put NSAID users at risk, says Plano, Texas, cardiologist Sarah Samaan, MD, author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart. Even though these drugs can raise the risk for bleeding, they also appear to increase the likelihood of dangerous blood clots in vulnerable heart arteries, she explains. NSAIDs can also raise blood pressure, in part by causing fluid retention.

Samaan’s advice is to avoid these drugs if possible. “Since many people with heart disease don’t realize they have it, I advise caution, especially if you’re over 50 or have risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or are a smoker,” she says. Instead, try hot liquids, rest, and aspirin—which works differently than the other NSAIDs and actually lowers the chances for heart attack and stroke. Acetaminophen might also be a better option for you, but check with your doctor or pharmacist.

 Your shoulder aches.

While shoulder pain probably doesn’t directly cause heart trouble, there does appear to be a relationship between the two problems. People at increased risk for heart disease were more likely to have shoulder trouble in a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Thirty-six participants with the most severe collection of risk factors for heart disease—including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes—were nearly 5 times more likely than those with no risk factors to have had shoulder joint pain. They were also almost 6 times more likely to have had another shoulder condition, rotator cuff tendinopathy, or inflammation of a tendon that attaches the rotator cuff muscles to the arm bone. (This is what a heart attack really feels like, according to women who have had one.)

It’s worth noting that this study was small and that additional research is needed to prove cause and effect. In the meantime, people with a shoulder problem should consider this extra motivation to curb their heart disease risk factors, suggests the study’s lead author Kurt Hegmann, MD, professor of family and preventive medicine and director of the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in Salt Lake City, Utah.

You’re surrounded by loud sounds.

Everyday loud noises—be it the blare of a siren, the cacophony of construction, or the drone of a leaf blower—don’t just hurt your ears: They seem to be bad for your heart, too, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. After reviewing previous studies, researchers found that people exposed to frequent noises had higher rates of heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.

While the research doesn’t prove that noise causes heart disease, it builds on a growing body of evidence that shows the detrimental effects of the clammer of life on heart health. According to researchers, noise causes a spike in stress hormones that can eventually lead to vascular damage. While high-decibel sound at any time can be harmful, nighttime noise seems to be especially harmful. A study in the journal Noise Health found that noise boosts production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can boost blood pressure, even when you’re sleeping.

To prevent noise from taking a toll on your ticker, close your windows, use textiles (like rugs, carpeting, and drapery) to absorb sound, and employ earplugs while you snooze. Click here for other smart solutions.

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