Most people are familiar with the risk factors that increase the chances of individuals developing cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks. There are the modifiable risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and living a sedentary lifestyle as well as non-modifiable risk factors such as one’s age, family history of heart disease, being female, and being of a specific racial decent that increase the risk of developing heart-related issues.
There are certain risk factors that most people tend to forget about or are just generally not aware of these issues until it becomes too late.
Forgotten Cardiac Disease Risk Factors
The following are forgotten risk factors for heart disease that one needs to remember, especially high-risk individuals, so as not to be caught off-guard in an unexpected situation that could have altogether been avoided.1
Sudden and Strenuous Physical Exertion
Sudden and strenuous exercises can cause a heart attack in susceptible individuals, especially those who have any of the above-mentioned risk factors and who aren’t used to performing elevated levels of physical exercise. This includes individuals who are not physically fit and decide to overdo their physical exertion or those who live a sedentary lifestyle and suddenly decide to go at full intensity when exercising or performing physical activities.
The best advice for such individuals is to start low and go slow. They can then slowly increase their physical intensity once their bodies are conditioned to the level they initially started at.
Intense emotions such as severe grief or anger can cause a sudden increase in one’s heart rate and blood pressure. Those individuals who have a predisposition for developing heart diseases are more prone to develop cardiac issues due to these stressors since most people are exposed to a relative degree of such problems.
Broken heart syndrome is a condition that has been clinically proven to occur, especially in post-menopausal women, in situations where the individual suffers from severe emotional distress. The physical shape of the heart changes and this can increase the risk of suffering from a heart attack (myocardial infarction).
Extremely cold weather can cause the blood vessels in the body to constrict and this can result in an increase in blood pressure due to the increased resistance caused by the cardiovascular system. When this is combined with performing physical activities, such as shoveling snow in this type of weather, the elevated blood pressure together with an increased heart rate can lead to decreased blood flow to the heart and result in a myocardial infarction. Every year, around 11,000 people end up in an emergency room with shortness of breath and chest pain or discomfort after shoveling snow and about seven percent of these individuals end up being diagnosed with heart disease.
Consuming a Large Quantity of Food
It may sound odd mentioning that eating a large amount of food can lead to a heart attack but this has been known to occur, especially at times of the year when people overindulge when eating. The hypothesis as to why this happens seems to lie in the possibility that eating a large meal can trigger the release of epinephrine in the body. This hormone is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response of the body when there is imminent danger and it causes the blood pressure and heart rate to increase. In those who are at high risk of developing a heart attack, this situation is not ideal as the heart muscle doesn’t receive an adequate amount of blood flow.
Being Diagnosed with other Medical Conditions
There are conditions that can increase the risk of developing heart disease, even in those who do not have any problems with their cardiovascular systems. These conditions include:
- Gestational diabetes – uncontrolled glucose levels in the bloodstream that develops as a result of a pregnancy.
- Preeclampsia – high blood pressure that causes complications to the kidneys and other organs during a pregnancy.
- Autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and vasculitis (inflammatory processes involving the blood vessels).
- Sleep apnea – this condition can even occur in individuals who are not obese and this increases the risk of developing heart disease by up to 30 percent.
- Previous radiation therapy to the chest – this is especially important if the therapy involved the left chest for lung cancer or breast tissue for breast cancer as this can damage the heart muscle.
Canto JG, Kiefe CI, Rogers WJ, et al. Number of Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors and Mortality in Patients With First Myocardial Infarction. JAMA. 2011;306(19):2120-2127. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1654.