Doctor Reveals The Most Unexpected Risk Factors For Heart Disease

As the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease is a real concern for many people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We make choices to exercise, eat right, and cut back on habits like smoking all in an effort to protect our heart for the long run. But that's not always enough.

One of the difficult things about heart disease is that it has many causes. Heart defects, diseased heart muscle, and arteriosclerosis can all be causes (via the Mayo Clinic). And there are actually some lesser-known contributors as well. Health Digest spoke with Jennifer Haythe, M.D., cardiologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center to learn more.

A history of connective tissue and autoimmune disease will put an individual at higher risk for developing heart disease. And Dr. Haythe says lupus is one example of an autoimmune condition that affects the heart. Seeking treatment as soon as you suspect something is wrong is very important. "The best way to treat autoimmune diseases is to be properly diagnosed by a rheumatologist and possibly be started on immune modulating medications."

Pregnancy can put women at risk

Dr. Haythe explained that pregnancy can also put a woman at risk for heart disease if certain factors are at play. One of them is preterm labor. "Preterm labor is defined as delivery between 20 weeks and 37 weeks and has been identified as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease later in a woman's life," she said. It may or may not be possible to prevent preterm labor, depending on what's causing it, she added.

Severe preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy, can also be an instigator of heart disease for women. "It manifests as very elevated blood pressure, water retention, protein in the urine and liver abnormalities," explained Dr. Haythe. "Prevention of preeclampsia may be possible by maintaining a healthy weight and level of exercise during pregnancy, minimizing excessive salt intake and being closely monitored by a physician." And for those women who have an increased risk, doctors may prescribe baby aspirin during pregnancy. "Once it develops, treatment includes aggressive blood pressure control, intravenous magnesium, steroids, and ultimately—delivery."

No matter what, it's still important that you prioritize a healthy lifestyle: a diet rich in whole foods, exercise, and good sleep can help protect your heart. While these causes of heart disease may be unusual, every little thing we can do to protect this vital organ will help.