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.
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.
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.)
You use pain relievers to ease cold or flu symptoms.
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.
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.
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.
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.