7 Sneaky Causes of Heart Attacks

7 Sneaky Causes of Heart Attacks

Along with eating right and exercising, here's how to keep your ticker strong.

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Let's say that, by the numbers, your heart looks to be in great shape. Your weight's down. Your waist is trim. Your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels are under 100, and your blood pressure's pretty good (we like 110/70). 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 might save your life. Read on for a crash course in avoiding 7 hidden causes of heart attacks.

Avoid Air Pollution

2 / 8 Avoid Air Pollution

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 increase your risk for a heart attack even if you don't have heart disease. Exercise indoors on high-ozone days and do your best to avoid exhaust-choked streets. Also, get out from behind diesel buses and trucks. Their tailpipes spew out chemicals and tiny particles that can inflame lungs and arteries, 

Don't Stop Taking Baby Aspirin

3 / 8 Don't Stop Taking Baby Aspirin

If you take low-dose aspirin for any reason, check your supply and run out for a new bottle if it's low. Stopping baby aspirin suddenly can triple your odds for trouble-causing blood clots in 10 days (yes, 10; that's no typo). Have a talk with your doc about the pros and cons of stopping your baby aspirin regimen, especially if you have surgery scheduled.

Take Care of Your Kidneys

4 / 8 Take Care of Your Kidneys

Ask your doc if there's anything in your health history (including Aunt Tillie's kidney problems) that might mean kidney problems for you. What do kidneys have to do with your heart? 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 kidneys gunk up your bloodstream, which stiffens arteries, fires up inflammation, and sets the stage for a heart attack. High blood pressure, diabetes, and unlucky genes are risk factors for kidney problems. If you've got any of 'em, get checked.

Know Your Siblings' Heart Health

5 / 8 Know Your Siblings' Heart Health

Bet you know that having parents with early heart problems ups your vulnerability, but did you know that having a sibling with heart disease before age 60 doubles your own odds of trouble? Sharing clothes is one thing, but heart attacks? Tell your doc about this part of your family history, and then do everything you can to stay healthy, from eating whole grains and exercising to not smoking.

Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis or Lupus

6 / 8 Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis or Lupus

The scaly skin of psoriasis, the fatigue of lupus, and the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis may seem worlds away from your heart, but these are all inflammatory diseases, and inflammation packs plaque into your arteries. Psoriasis increases heart disease risk by nearly 80 percent, lupus doubles it, and rheumatoid arthritis raises heart attack risk 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.) Remember to pamper your ticker with healthy meals, daily 30-minute walks, and a stress-soother.

Repair an Unhappy Relationship

7 / 8 Repair an Unhappy Relationship

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. Unhappy relationships zoom up heart disease risk 25 percent—along with your risk of a heart attack. 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!

Use Your Vacation Time

8 / 8 Use Your Vacation Time

Taking regular time off can cut your heart attack odds by almost a third, yet in 2011 43 percent of Americans didn't use all of their vacation time. Some worry about being away from their jobs in a still-tight economy, while others can't afford a getaway. If you can't head for the beach, 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 is more fun), unwind a little, and unwind some more. Aim for that blissed-out vacation feeling. Your heart will love it, and so will you.