6 Health Conditions that Raise the Risk of Heart Disease


Cindy Kuzma

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Though you might see a cardiologist for your heart troubles and a dentist for your gum disease, your body’s systems are interconnected. Seemingly unrelated diseases that affect your skin, brain, or mouth can cause changes that eventually threaten your heart.

Luckily, the reverse is also true. Steps that improve heart health, including exercising and eating a healthy diet, can also help prevent and treat many other illnesses. Here are six conditions that can place your heart in peril—and how you can reduce your risk.

1. Arthritis

More than 46 million Americans currently have arthritis. And more than half of those people also have heart disease. Being overweight raises your risk of both heart disease and osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks membranes within the joints, is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Lifestyle changes that soothe joint pain may also keep your heart healthy. You might be afraid that exercise will worsen your aches. But give it a try—you’ll likely find that physical activity eases arthritis symptoms as it prevents heart disease. Exercise also contributes to more restful sleep. Eating a nutritious diet, including omega-3 fatty acids like those found in some fish, may reduce swelling in the joints and help protect blood vessels.

2. Depression

If you had any doubt that depression was a disease and not a character flaw, consider this. The condition has been linked to about one-fifth of new heart disease diagnoses. The diseases seem to feed off one another. People who are depressed after a cardiac event heal more slowly and are at risk for future heart attacks and strokes.

Treating depression improves both your emotional and physical health. Don’t be ashamed to ask your doctor about therapy, medications, or both. And if you already have heart disease, be on the lookout for signs of depression, such as feeling sad, disengaged, and hopeless for at least two weeks.

3. Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when your body either can’t make or can’t use insulin. This hormone drives glucose, or sugar, into the body’s cells, which, in turn, use the sugar for energy. Extra sugar in your blood over time can damage nerves and blood vessels, contributing to heart disease. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease, and two-thirds of those affected will die from it.

Controlling your diabetes by keeping your blood sugar in check prevents this damage. Also, ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and blood cholesterol. If they’re high, he or she will help you take steps to reduce them, such as following a low-salt or low-fat diet.

4. Psoriasis

Red, itchy, scaly skin is no fun to begin with. Now, doctors know that the harm of psoriasis goes more than skin deep. Recent studies have found that the condition is linked not only to heart disease, but also to stroke and other blood vessel diseases. This could be because people with psoriasis are twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions like obesity and high blood pressure that raise heart risks.

5. Kidney Disease

Your kidneys filter your blood of excess water, toxins, and wastes. When damaged, they stop producing a hormone that regulates blood pressure, contributing to hypertension. People with end-stage kidney disease are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Even less severe cases of kidney disease double your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Medications that treat kidney disease, like ACE inhibitors and diuretics, may also help your heart. A low-salt diet battles both conditions. It’s tough to put down the salt shaker at first, but after two to three months your taste buds will adjust.

6. Gum Disease

As many as half of all adults have mild cases of periodontitis, an infection that begins with gum disease, and then spreads to the bones and ligaments supporting your teeth. Inflammation—the body’s response to such an injury or infection—damages your blood vessels over time. Injured vessel walls are more prone to plaque buildup that can block blood flow to your heart. Indeed, people with gum disease are up to twice as likely to have coronary artery disease.

If you have gum disease, your doctor may recommend a test that measures C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. If yours is high, the damage could extend to your heart. Controlling other risk factors—such as quitting smoking and working with your doctor to manage blood pressure and cholesterol—helps both your mouth and the rest of your body.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 24, 2017

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