Name a risk factor for heart disease. Likely you said high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, or being physically inactive, among other common risk factors for the most deadly disease in the United States. But, how many of you stated other less typical health conditions besides those quoted most often?
What many of us may not realize is certain chronic health conditions may also increase a person’s risk for heart disease. If you’re someone who has one of these conditions, it’s important to be aware of the association between your condition and heart disease. This can help you focus and make changes if necessary on preventing a heart attack or stroke by adopting heart-healthy lifestyle habits. These habits should include eating a heart-healthy, low sodium diet, maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure, and making exercise a regular part of your life.
Here’s a look at four chronic health conditions that studies have shown to have a connection to increasing the risk of heart disease:
Asthma and heart disease may seem to have little in common – one affects your respiratory system and the other your cardiovascular system. Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs that causes breathing problems. While many children can develop asthma, there is more concern with people who develop asthma as adults (late-onset asthma) that may put them at a higher risk of heart disease. Late-onset asthma tends to be more severe and more difficult to control with medicines than asthma that begins in childhood.
A 2016 study found that people with late-onset asthma were 57 percent more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event than those without asthma. The reason researchers theorized for this was that besides late-onset asthma being harder to control, it also may be triggered by air pollution leading to a more rapid decline in lung function. Other studies have found an association between air pollution and compromised lung function and cardiovascular disease.
People with late-onset asthma should be monitored closely by their healthcare provider for high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. They should also take measures to remain heart-healthy and stroke-free by exercising, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining normal body weight.
Another study has found people with persistent asthma could be at 1.5 times higher risk for developing a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation or AFib than those without asthma. The connection between these two conditions is believed to be related to inflammation, which is a risk factor for both asthma and AFib – people with persistent asthma have high levels of inflammation.
Migraines with aura
Many Americans suffer from headaches that have no impact on increasing their risk of heart disease. But if you suffer from migraines that include sensory disturbances of flashes of light, blind spots, nausea and dizziness, and other vision changes or tingling in hands or face – known as migraines with aura – it may affect your heart.
While it’s unclear why there may be a link between migraines with aura and heart trouble, it’s believed that this type of migraine may result in a decline of blood flow to certain areas of the brain which can lead to inflammation in blood vessels. Women especially, who get this type of headache, are three to four times more likely to have a stroke. One study has found that women, who take hormonal birth control and have migraines, are more likely to have blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis. Studies also show a link between heart attacks is stronger in people who get migraines with aura.
To help those with migraines with aura to reduce heart disease risks, they are advised to not smoke, maintain normal blood pressure, reach a healthy body weight, exercise regularly, and eat a heart-healthy diet.
Around 1.5 million Americans, mostly women, have rheumatoid arthritis. This autoimmune disease causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues resulting in chronic pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in joints. It’s now more understood through a review of studies that people with this condition may face a more than 50 percent higher risk for heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure.
The link between these two diseases is inflammation. Inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis can damage membranes around joints that eventually damage the cartilage and bones. But this same inflammation can damage the heart too by narrowing the arteries, raising blood pressure, and reducing blood flow to the heart. Even some of the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis such as prednisone, increase the risk of heart disease by promoting a greater build-up of plaque on artery walls, stiffer arteries, reduced insulin sensitivity, and higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
It’s vital that anyone with rheumatoid arthritis should closely work with their doctor on ways to reduce heart disease risks such as monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure and adopting as many heart-healthy habits as possible to fend off heart attacks and stroke.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD
The chronic condition better known by its acronym of GERD is when what food contents happen to be in your stomach at the time, backs up into your esophagus. Normally, your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle opens to allow food to come down the esophagus into the stomach. Then it will close to prevent food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into your esophagus. However, if the LES is weak, then the stomach’s contents may flow back up into the esophagus and if it’s happening at least twice a week, then it is diagnosed as GERD
While people may consider GERD to be more of a nuisance than being very harmful, the reality is that people with GERD are more likely to end up with heart disease, characterized by abnormal heartbeats, plaque buildup in the arteries, or reduced blood flow to the heart. Like many diseases, GERD is considered a condition that may result from chronic inflammation. This inflammation can produce substances called cytokines which can cause excessive plaque buildup in the heart.
GERD can be managed by monitoring the following behaviors: avoiding foods such as chocolate, coffee, peppermint, spicy foods, and tomato products that can aggravate it; quitting smoking; elevating the head of your bed; weight loss; and possibly using proton-pump inhibitors short-term.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board-certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.