Family History, Pregnancy, Steroids, and Gum Disease
Clue 6: Your Mother Had a Bad Heart
It used to be that heart disease on your father’s side of the family tree was considered a risk factor. But according to a new study in Sweden, women whose mothers had heart disease have a 43 percent greater risk for developing the same problem. Having a father with heart disease raises your risk only 17 percent.
Why it’s a risk factor: This one may have more to do with nurture than nature. "Behavioral risk factors are often acquired in childhood," explains lead study author Kristina Sundquist, MD, assistant professor at the Karolinska Institute’s Center for Family Medicine, in Stockholm. "Children typically spend more time with their mothers than with their fathers. Mothers with heart disease are more likely to smoke, have a poor diet, and/or be inactive, which can influence the behavior in offspring and increase their risk." When assessing your risk, make sure you know who in your family had heart disease, and when, Hayes advises. Consider yourself at risk if either of your parents had premature coronary artery disease — before the age of 60 for your mother and before the age of 50 for your father. And bear in mind that genetics don’t determine the whole picture. "You can’t choose your parents, but you can choose your habits," Sundquist says. Quit smoking, improve your diet, and be more physically active to minimize your risk.
Clue 7: You’ve Had a High-Risk Pregnancy
If you developed pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) or eclampsia (seizures or a coma) during pregnancy, your risk of coronary heart disease is doubled. Gestational diabetes also gives you a higher risk for heart disease later in life.
Why it’s a risk factor: Experts suspect the common denominator may be insulin resistance, which occurs when the body no longer uses insulin efficiently. Insulin resistance is a known risk factor for high blood pressure and is a major contributing factor to gestational diabetes.
If you’ve ever had these complications of pregnancy, be sure to have regular physicals. And keep tabs on your waist: Excess fat around the waist is linked to elevated blood sugar levels, lower levels of HDL cholesterol, and higher levels of triglycerides. "Measure your waist just above your belly button and your hips at their widest points," Goldberg says. "Divide your waist measurement by the hip one. A healthy waist-to-hip ratio for women is less than 0.8."
Clue 8: You’re Taking Steroids for Asthma or Another Condition
Potent anti-inflammatories, steroids are commonly prescribed for lung conditions such as asthma, as well as for autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis. One British study found that people using steroids or intravenous glucocorticoids had a 2 1/2 times greater risk for cardiovascular disease. In another study, researchers in the Netherlands found that the risk of atrial fibrillation (when parts of the heart quiver instead of beat, allowing blood to clot) was six times higher in those taking high-dose corticosteroids.
Why it’s a risk factor: Steroids increase blood pressure, lipids, and blood glucose, thus increasing the risk of heart disease. Since steroids change the potassium balance in the heart muscle’s cells, they may be the root cause of atrial fibrillation. Tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking as well as any side effects they’re causing.
Clue 9: You Have Gum Disease
Recent research suggests that people with coronary artery disease are 38 percent more likely to also have periodontal disease than people without it. In fact, in some studies, dental disease turned out to be a greater cardiac risk factor than smoking. "Right now it’s just an association, but studies are being done to see whether treating gum disease will reduce the risk of heart disease," notes periodontist Susan Karabin, DDS, vice president of the American Academy of Periodontology.