Medical City Healthcare - February 07, 2020

Most people know that high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking are among the top preventable risk factors for heart disease. However, you may be surprised to learn that flu, migraines and sleep apnea can also endanger your heart.

That’s because heart problems don’t always start in the heart. Conditions such as diabetes, obesity or chronic stress can slowly compromise your heart’s health.

Always call 911 or head to the nearest ER if you think someone is having a heart attack.

Protect your heart by discussing your biggest risk factors with your primary care physician or heart specialist. It may also be worth asking about these five surprising heart attack risks:

Flu (influenza)

Having heart disease doesn’t necessarily make you more susceptible to getting the flu, but it can make you sicker. Having the flu virus can also temporarily increase your risk of heart attack by more than 30%, according to a study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The study authors estimate that 90,000 coronary deaths could be prevented each year in the United States if more heart patients simply got a flu shot. Flu and other infections can trigger inflammatory responses in the body, which may cause a heart attack. Your best strategy: get your flu vaccine—ideally at the beginning of flu season but anytime will help. So if you haven’t already had your flu shot, get one for the whole family at one of more than 40 convenient CareNow Urgent Care clinics across DFW.


Having migraines with aura (symptoms that typically appear before the onset of a migraine) is generally accepted by experts as doubling the risk of heart or coronary artery disease, according to the American Migraine Foundation. The American Heart Association says that more research is needed to focus on this less well-known complication of migraine with aura—stroke being more well-known, especially among women. People who suffer from migraines are also more likely to have risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Be sure tell your doctor if you experience migraines so you can be monitored for warning signs of heart disease.

Autoimmune disease

Certain autoimmune diseases and inflammatory syndromes like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis may ratchet up your chances of having a heart attack. According to the American College of Cardiology, several autoimmune disorders are linked to “heart block”—a problem with your heart’s electrical system. Some people may even need a pacemaker. If you have an autoimmune disease and are experiencing erratic heartbeats, check with your doctor.

Stopping aspirin therapy

Aspirin, which is a blood thinner, is often prescribed to prevent the formation of blood clots. If you’re on a daily aspirin regimen as a preventive measure or because you’ve had a heart attack, don’t suddenly stop taking it. That can boost your heart attack risk by as much as 37% by triggering a blood clot (called the “rebound effect”) according to MedicalNewsToday. If you want to discontinue aspirin therapy, ask your healthcare provider if you can safely wean yourself off of aspirin.

Sleep disorders

Sleep apnea, which disrupts a person’s breathing during sleep, not only affects sleep quality, it also increases the risk of heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), AFib, heart attacks and heart failure, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea treatment using a continuous positive airway pressure mask (CPAP) at night seems to reduce heart attack risk, perhaps because the therapy also decreases blood pressure, both at night and during the day. Lesson: Don’t ignore sleep problems.

Knowing your heart disease risk factors—even the surprising ones—and taking steps to manage them is the best way to prevent heart attacks.

Find out how healthy your heart is. Our free Heart Risk Assessment can help you pinpoint your personal risk factors for heart disease so you can start taking steps to decrease them today.

If you or someone in your family experiences chest pain, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations or Accredited Chest Pain Centers has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

You can also get care for minor injuries or illness at one of the many DFW CareNow® Urgent Care locations, with convenient Web Check-In® so you can wait in the comfort of your home.

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