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Here Are 3 Lesser-Known Factors That Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease

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Most of us are aware of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease—smoking, obesity, genetics, sedentary lifestyle, to name a few. But there are lesser-known contributors that could negatively impact your heart health. Here are three risk factors that all women should know.

Complications During Pregnancy

Complications from pregnancy may resolve post-partum, but they could have long-term effects on your heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) has identified six pregnancy conditions—high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, small-for-gestational-age delivery, pregnancy loss and placental abruption—that can increase a woman’s chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life. 

High blood pressure during pregnancy, for example, increases a woman’s risk for CVD by 67 percent and the chance of stroke by 83 percent, while gestational diabetes can increase the risk of CVD by 68 percent and the risk of Type-2 diabetes after pregnancy 10-fold, according to AHA. 

Women who have experienced these complications should monitor their blood pressure post-partum and continue to have routine physicals and blood work—and, of course, maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle and exercise regularly.

Sleep Apnea

Snoring may be more than a nighttime nuisance for the other sleepers in your house. A condition known as sleep apnea can increase the risk or be an indicator of CVD. According to AHA, 40 to 80 percent of people with CVD also suffer from sleep apnea, which often goes undiagnosed. While it impacts men more, 17 percent of middle-aged women have the sleep condition. 

Symptoms include snoring, disrupted sleep, daytime tiredness and, most noticeably, pauses in breathing while sleeping—as much as five to 30 times in an hour. This lapse in breathing causes the body to release the stress hormone cortisol and can up your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Sleep apnea also creates a negative cycle, whereby it can worsen CVD, which in turn worsens sleep apnea. 

People who snore or are at risk for CVD should talk with their doctors about screening for apnea. Treatment often involves the use of a CPAP machine, which forces a continual flow of air into the mouth or nose during sleep. 

Depression, Anxiety & Stress

Emotional distress can impact our day-to-day in myriad ways—and it can also impact our long-term heart health. 

Physically, depression and anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and a higher heart rate as well as decreased blood flow to your heart and increased levels of cortisol, all of which can cause to heart disease. People who suffer from depression can also exhibit increased pro-inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, an indicator of cardiovascular issues.

In addition, periods of emotional distress can cause people to make poor lifestyle choices, from eating unhealthy foods or consuming too much alcohol to smoking or skipping routine exercise. These behaviors can all contribute to an increased risk in heart disease.

Your mental wellness is paramount. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or extreme stress, talk with your doctor about different treatments and therapies.