Health Library

Categories > Heart Health > Heart disease: Causes and risks

Uncovering hidden heart risks

We all know that high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes raise the risk of developing heart disease. But skin problems, migraines and other seemingly unrelated conditions have also been linked to the deadly disease. Many are still being investigated in clinical studies, and it’s unclear whether treating these conditions will help lower heart disease risk, but if you have any of the following conditions, it’s worth talking with your healthcare provider about what they mean for your heart.

Restless legs syndrome. In one study, people who had restless legs syndrome—a condition that causes uncomfortable feelings in the legs and urges to move them, especially at night—had increased heart disease and stroke rates. How does restless legs lead to heart troubles? The researchers say it may be due to the repeated leg movements, which increase blood pressure and heart rate.

Menopause. As women age, their risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke increases, perhaps because of natural estrogen loss after menopause. Doctors used to give women menopausal hormone therapy to reduce heart disease and stroke risk, but it may actually increase the risk. That’s why eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise are especially crucial at this time.

Depression. It’s long been known that depression is common after a heart attack, but new research suggests that people who suffer depression—particularly those with appetite loss, sleep problems and fatigue—are at increased risk of developing heart disease. One study linked depression’s physical signs to the thickening of arteries, which can reduce blood flow to the heart.

Psoriasis. Several studies have linked the skin condition, an autoimmune disorder, with an increased risk of heart disease and heart attack, and inflammation is likely to blame. Why? People with psoriasis have an overactive immune system, which causes inflammation throughout the rest of the body. Inflammation, in turn, can increase the risk of atherosclerosis, a condition that causes the arteries to narrow from plaque buildup. Other autoimmune conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, have also been linked to heart disease.

Migraines. Men and women who deal with these debilitating headaches are at greater heart disease risk, especially if they have migraines with aura—visual problems and other neurological symptoms. In two separate studies, researchers found that both men and women were more likely to have a heart attack or stroke if they had a history of migraines. They don’t know why migraine leads to heart disease, but it could be that the headaches are a warning sign that your arteries are suffering from reduced blood flow. Doctors recommend that migraine sufferers with aura take steps to reduce their risk, such as losing weight, avoiding smoking and keeping their blood pressure in check.

Erectile dysfunction (ED). In recent years, there’s been a lot of attention on ED and its link to heart disease. While not a risk factor, ED can be a warning sign that arteries are having trouble getting the blood where it needs to go—including the penis. ED and heart disease also share many of the same risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So, if you’re suffering from ED, make sure to discuss it with your doctor.