Many of us are aware of the common risk factors that put us at a greater risk for heart disease - an unhealthy weight, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
These are the key factors in avoiding this deadly disease, but what about the more uncommon risk factors?
Here are six things to watch for in your own life that could lead to heart issues:
UNDIAGNOSED SLEEP APNEA
Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing sometimes stops during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by complete or partial obstruction of the airway and is often associated with snoring, daytime fatigue and obesity.
Less common is central sleep apnea, which occurs because your brain doesn’t send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. The common thread between these two types of sleep apnea is a lack of oxygen during sleep. Left undiagnosed, this can lead to high blood pressure (a risk factor for developing heart disease), or heart rhythm irregularities such as atrial fibrillation.
If you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, ask your sleep partner if you often show signs of trouble breathing at night such as snoring, gasping for air or restlessness. If so, consider having a sleep evaluation.
GETTING THE FLU
The American Heart Association and the CDC recommend all older adults, including those with heart disease, receive the seasonal flu vaccine for protection against the flu virus. If you do get the flu, you have a higher risk of having a cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, because influenza may cause inflammation in the body, triggering plaque rupture.
EATING AT THE WRONG TIME
Eating habits, including skipping breakfast and late night eating, can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. Paying attention to your eating habits, both what you eat and when you eat, can decrease your likelihood of developing risk factors associated with heart disease.
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and cardiovascular disease. It has been suggested that vitamin D can lower blood pressure by reducing the activity of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, which plays an important role in regulating blood volume and vascular resistance. Others have suggested that vitamin D can prevent tissue scarring from forming in the heart, reduce the effects of diabetes and prevent blood clots.
Healthy foods that are high in vitamin D include:
- canned tuna
- egg yolks
- fortified milk
- certain cereals
Spending some time outside in the sun is a good way to get your daily dose of vitamin D. A simple blood test ordered by your physician can help determine if you have a vitamin D deficiency.
THE "RULE OF 40"
While high cholesterol might be a well-known risk factor for heart disease, the impact of reducing that number might surprise you. According to William C. Roberts, M.D., editor of the American Journal of Cardiology, for every 40 points you reduce your blood cholesterol level, you cut your risk of an initial or recurrent cardiac event in half.
GENETICS, LIFESTYLE AND HEART DISEASE
Having a family history of heart disease, or “bad genes,” can double your risk of heart disease. Nothing can be done to change your genetics, but making healthy lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and choosing not to smoke can cut your family history risk in half.
On the other side, an unfavorable lifestyle erases about half the benefits of good genetics. The worst scenario? Bad genes + an unfavorable lifestyle = being four times more likely to develop heart disease.