Five surprising diseases that threaten your heart

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 22, 2015 17:24 IST

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in India, where heart attacks and strokes account for more than 30% of all deaths each year. By now, most people are more than familiar with the risk factors for heart disease - high blood pressure, inactivity, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking, among others- but few know that some seemingly unrelated diseases also aggravate the risk of heart disease and early death.

Rheumatoid arthritis - a chronic progressive disease that causes painful inflammation, stiffness and deformity of the joints, especially of the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles - raises risk of heart attack and death 1.5-2.5-fold over 10 years compared with people without the disease, reported a study of more than 160,000 women in the journal Nature Reviews Rheumatology in June, 2015. Globally, heart disease and stroke cause more than half of all premature deaths in people with rheumatoid arthritis, showed a 2011 review of 24 studies published in Nature Reviews Rheumatology.

Gout - a condition where defective metabolism of uric acid causes arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet -- also raises the chances of heart attack and death, reported a large review in The Annals of Rheumatic Diseases this year. It concluded that using medicines to bring uric acid to the target levels and early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease can prevent early death.

The risk of heart disease and stroke is two to four times higher for people with diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. People with diabetes may not experience pain associated with an attack because of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) and they are more likely to have "silent" heart attacks, which often delays diagnosis and treatment. They are also more likely to be overweight, have high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high bad cholesterol and low good cholesterol, all factors that raise the risk to their heart even more.

Since inflammation in the arteries is a possible reason for both insulin resistance and heart disease among diabetics, the American Diabetes Association recommends aspirin to block thromboxane production to reduce blood clotting and lower their risk of heart and stroke.

*Depression, anxiety

Depression, anxiety and heart disease feed on each other. Not only does depression raise the risk of heart disease but it also slows healing and recovery in people recovering from a heart attack or stroke. People who are depressed are also more likely to have an unhealthy lifestyle, and are more likely to smoke, be inactive and overweight, and generally poor at sticking to prescription medication, all of which further aggravate both conditions. Sticking to the medicines prescribed, eating healthy, staying active, getting six to eight hours of sleep and reconnecting with family and friends lowers depression and the associated heart attack risk.

People with diagnosed heart disease should also watch out for signs of depression and seek treatment if they feel low, listless, disengaged or hopeless for more than two weeks.

Damage from psoriasis red, itchy, scaly skin condition runs more than skin deep, with studies linking it with heart disease, stroke and other blood vessel diseases. A massive analysis of 75 studies involving 503,686 cases and 29,686,694 controls found that people with psoriasis are more prone to develop heart failure, with the risk rising as the psoriasis gets more severe. Chronic inflammation -- a component of both heart failure and psoriasis -- may be the link between the two, reported the 2013 study from Denmark in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.

Psoriasis affects 125 million people worldwide. The Danish study recommends early screening and treatment of heart risk factors in patients with psoriasis.

*Kidney Disease
People with chronic kidney disease are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those with healthy kidneys and roughly half of them die from it before they develop kidney failure. People with end-stage kidney disease are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Even less severe cases of kidney disease double your risk for heart attack and stroke. Clinical guidelines already recommend that patients with diabetes, hypertension and the possibility of chronic kidney disease be evaluated for kidney function and kidney damage. So clear is the link that experts advocate measuring kidney health to predict heart disease risk.

Indicators of kidney function and damage could rival tests of cholesterol and blood pressure in foretelling several outcomes, including death from heart attack, showed research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology this year.

Lifestyle modifications such as adopting a low-salt diet and more exercising along with or treatments using cholesterol-lowering medicines such as statins, blood pressure-lowering ACE inhibitors and diuretics help manage both diseases.

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