6 Hidden Causes of Heart Attacks

6 Hidden Causes of Heart Attacks

Let's say that, by the numbers, your heart looks to be in great shape. Your weight's down. Your waist is trim. Your lousy LDL cholesterol's under 100, and your blood pressure's pretty good (we like 115/75). Whew. One less thing to sweat, right?

Not quite. Nearly half of all heart attacks happen to people whose tickers look as good as yours. So doing a little extra could save your life.

Here's our crash course in avoiding seven hidden causes of heart trouble.

Brilliant move #1: Heed those dirty-air warnings on the news.
Why your heart loves it: Inhaling ozone—the nasty gas that results when tailpipe and smokestack fumes meet sunlight and hot weather—can kill cardio cells, throw off your heartbeat and boost your odds for a heart attack even if you don't have heart disease. Smart moves: Exercise indoors on high-ozone days. Do your best to avoid exhaust-choked streets. Get out from behind diesel buses and trucks; their tailpipes spew out chemicals and tiny particles that can inflame lungs and arteries, rupture plaque buildups, encourage blood clots and boost blood pressure.

Brilliant move #2: Ask your doc if there's anything in your health history (including Aunt Tillie's kidney problems) that might mean trouble for your kidneys.
Why your heart loves it: Kidneys are vital to your body's waste-disposal system, but in many adults (1 in 9!) these ingenious little filters aren't firing on all cylinders. Over time, this triples your odds for heart problems because hinky kidneys gunk up your bloodstream, which stiffens arteries and fires up inflammation. High blood pressure, diabetes and unlucky genes weaken kidneys. If you've got any of 'em, get checked. 

Brilliant move #3: Treat your siblings' heart health like your own.
Why your heart loves it: Bet you know that having parents with early heart problems ups your vulnerability. But did you know that having a sib with heart disease before 60 doubles your own odds of trouble? Sharing clothes is one thing, but heart attacks? No way. Tell your doc about this part of the family tree. Then do everything you can to stay healthy (from eating whole grains and walking to not smoking). (Here's how to set a new goal today—and stick to it!)

Brilliant move #4: Give yourself extra TLC if you've got psoriasis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Why your heart loves it: The scaly skin of psoriasis, the fatigue of lupus and the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may seem worlds away from your heart. But these are all inflammatory diseases and inflammation packs plaque into your arteries. No wonder psoriasis increases heart disease risk by nearly 80 percent, lupus doubles it and RA raises heart attack chances by 60 percent. Get serious about keeping your blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and inflammation levels down. (Did you floss today? Gum disease fires up internal inflammation.) Then pamper your ticker with healthy meals, daily 30-minute walks and a stress-soother (we do yoga).

Brilliant move #5: Strengthen your marriage and friendships.
Why your heart loves it: You probably suspect that a colder-than-the-Antarctic marriage can lead to physical as well as legal troubles. Ditto if your so-called pals fall into the "with friends like these, who needs enemies" category; they zoom up heart risk 25 percent. Break up with that bad crowd and find real friends. If your marriage has gone from tender to tense, work on it (everyone has to at some point). Your blood pressure will drop, your arteries will be cleaner, and, hey, you'll be happier! (Find out more about how your friendships can help you live longer.)

Brilliant move #6: Use up your vacation time!
Why your heart loves it: Taking regular time off can cut your heart attack odds by almost a third. Yet 43 percent of Americans didn't use all their vacation last year. Can't swing a getaway right now? Do the stay-cation thing: Fill up the wading pool, turn off your phone and computer, rent ALL of your favorite movies, take long walks, do/don't cook (whichever's more fun), unwind a little . . . unwind some more. Aim for that blissed-out vacation feeling. Your heart will love it. So will you.

Medically reviewed in March 2019.

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