Bring it to Barb


Dear Barb,

Does the place you live or grew up make a notable difference in the risk of heart attack and heart issues? What are the most common culprits? Does depression cause heart attacks?


Taking Care of My Ticker


Dear Taking Care of My Ticker,

Where you live can dictate how long you live and the quality of life you have. Garth Graham, MD, MPH, cardiologist and president of the Aetna Foundation says: “Your environment is important. It dictates your ability to access fresh fruits and vegetables and safe places to bike and walk and even the air you breathe, and that can influence your heart health.”

A 2016 study from the American Heart Association found that counties with the highest rate of death from heart disease are concentrated in the South. Those who felt lonely had a 29 percent higher risk of heart disease and 32 percent higher risk of stroke compared to people who had – or felt like they had – lots of social relationships. Loneliness, or the stress of being alone, can cause inflammation in the body, creating conditions that can lead to heart disease, or lead to depression, another major risk factor.

Brush and floss regularly and visit your dentist. It’s true! The state of your teeth and gums are related to heart health. Bleeding or inflamed gums allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, where it can cause unknown or known inflammation and create conditions that can lead to heart disease.

What happens during pregnancy influences heart health and may have an impact down the line. Tell your doctor about your pregnancy history if you had problems and get regularly screened for diabetes and hypertension.

A sudden traumatic event like a death in the family or a car accident doesn’t just make you feel like your heart stops. It may actually cause heart trouble. Big stress can lead to an acute surge in adrenaline, which causes the heart rate and blood pressure to go up and stay elevated.

A bad boss! The low-level stress of having to deal with a negative, manipulative boss day-in and day-out can also cause your ticker to flicker. Researchers found that you may be 40 percent more likely to have a heart attack if you have a bad boss.

Lack of sleep and waking up frequently at night can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, keeping your body on high alert instead of at rest. Plus, when you’re tired, you’re less likely to keep up with healthy habits.

Diabetes and hypertension raise the risk of heart disease. Autoimmune conditions may also make you more susceptible to heart trouble.

If you love French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and chips, too much fried food can increase your risk for heart disease and death, especially in postmenopausal women over the age of 50. So, while it’s okay to enjoy some deep-fried food every once in a while, don’t make it a regular habit.

E-cigarettes may be an alternative to smoking, but they aren’t much better for your heart health, resulting ina 40 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who never used e-cigarettes

It runs in the family and with heart disease, it’s definitely true. Even people with low cholesterol levels and a healthy lifestyle and who are slim if they have a family history of heart disease, they can develop blockages in their arteries at a young age.

Depression causes a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s not 100 percent certain why this happens, but it’s thought to be because you’re less likely to take care of yourself like eating well and exercising. Plus, if you do have a heart attack or other heart-related problem, individuals with depression don’t recover as well.

Cancer treatments have become more and more effective in fighting cancer, but there’s one major downside: heart problems. Some medicines for cancer and chemotherapy are cardio-toxic and can lead to cardiomyopathy. Radiation can also cause blockages in your blood vessels, putting you at risk for heart attack and heart failure too. Problems can show up years after treatment has ended.

Throw back a drink…or six. While some headlines say that alcohol is good for your heart, don’t go overboard. Excess alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease. Women should have no more than one drink a day and men no more than two drinks a day.

If you’ve hit menopause, there’s a trend toward increased cardiovascular disease risk as you get older, and the risk gets higher when you hit menopause.

All of these factors are not in your control, but some are directly in your hands!

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