Unexpected Heart Disease Risk Factors

Bad gums, lack of sleep may be related to heart health

closeup of woman brushing teeth

You’ve probably heard the warnings about risk factors and heart disease, but there are lesser-known risk factors that don’t make the usual list of suspects.

Unexpected risk factors

Here are some risk factors that have been observed in people who also had heart disease or other cardiovascular issues:

  • Poor dental care: Observational studies have noted that people with heart disease also tend to have bad gums. The exact relationship remains unproven. The plaque that accumulates on your teeth is not the same plaque that clogs your coronary arteries; regardless, good dental hygiene is important, particularly if you have been diagnosed with a heart murmur. So, take care of your teeth by brushing and flossing daily and visiting the dentist regularly.
  • Air pollution: Studies have shown a link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease. If you live in a city with poor air quality, limit your time outdoors and your exercise outside during rush hour.
  • Noise pollution: You may benefit from scheduling some quiet time if you live or work in a noisy environment. One study suggests louder traffic is connected to a higher risk of stroke.
  • Lack of sleep: Poor sleep contributes to many risk factors that may lead to heart disease, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
  • Sleep apnea: Those who have sleep apnea are at a higher risk for high blood pressure, arrhythmias, cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart failure.
  • Migraines: Women who have migraines with aura (visual disturbances like flashing lights) are at a slightly higher risk for heart disease.
  • High BMI: Having a mother who had a high BMI (body mass index) during pregnancy is a risk factor.
  • PTSD or stress: Having post-traumatic stress or chronic stress is linked to heart disease.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Having rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune disease is a risk factor, as inflammation helps develop plaque that blocks arteries.

Every 40 seconds an American dies from cardiovascular disease.

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Take this warning to heart

“Stories often surface in the media about ‘secret’ or ‘little-known’ warning signs for heart disease,” says cardiac surgeon A. Marc Gillinov, MD, author of Heart 411. He says it’s important to focus on a few important points:

  1. Finding a coincidental occurrence and proving a meaningful, causal link are two distinctly different things. All of these risk factors are linked to heart disease but we are still not sure if they cause heart disease.
  2. Even with all of these new and interesting risk factors, the most important thing is to not forget the risk factors that we know can make a difference.

Dr. Gillinov continues, “Amidst all the focus on newfound risk factors, high blood pressure (a key cause of heart disease and stroke and a major killer in the United States) fades into the background.”

Well-known risk factors

As a reminder, here are some better-known, proven risk factors for heart disease and heart attack:

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  • Increasing age, for both men and women
  • Strong family history of heart disease
  • A history of clogged arteries that required surgery or stents to reopen them (including prior heart attack or peripheral artery disease)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High levels of “bad” blood cholesterol
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Being overweight
  • Sedentary (lack of exercise) lifestyle

Take charge of your heart health

If you’re still wondering how these risk factors affect you, you can assess your risk of coronary heart disease: Take the test.

Whether you have one or more of the well-known risk factors or those that are unexpected, Dr. Gillinov states, “The most important thing you can do is take charge of your heart health. For starters, that means exercising, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking.”

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  • leeon

    Cardiovascular diseases are at the top of the most important reasons of chronic disease, invalidism, premature aging and dying. Cardiovascular problems can be effectively prevented or reversed with healthy way of living.

    you can read mor about it here:

  • Jan

    I have a. Slow heart beat and lip 97/67. They are talking pace maker down the road. Don’t want that. I’m 68

    • Pacer

      I have a pacemaker. Got it at 65 and have had for 1 year. The surgery is easy and I feel much better. I don’t feel like I am going to pass out all the time. It mat be worth it for you.

    • tonya

      I have a pacemakerr at the age of 42 it sustaines my life as I only have an ubderlined heart beat…it eill be worth it whens itd all done dont give up on lige yoi still have awhilr to gp

  • tonya

    Its funny I took this test to see how accurate it might be…but it said I habe a1% chance of getting heart disease and having a heart attack…but im already in heart failure and have VT with a complete heart block anf only an underline heatt beat I am currently pacer dependant with an ICD…

  • Emom

    i just got told my heart murmur has reached the point where it needs to be fixed. Why can’t I have I invasive surgery to correct this?