8 surprising heart disease risks

It’s well-known that fatty foods, smoking and inactivity are risk factors for heart disease. But new research has revealed some other risks that may surprise you

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Unusual risk factors

We all know that fatty foods, smoking and lack of exercise can contribute to cardiovascular disease. But the well-known risk factors aren't the only risk factors. Experts are constantly on the lookout for new clues about what can trigger cardiovascular problems. These latest studies may surprise you.

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Blood type A, B or AB

Know your blood type? According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people with type A, B or AB blood - that's over half the population - have a slightly higher risk of heart disease compared to those with type O blood. In a new study, type A blood boosted the risk by five percent, type B by 11 percent and type AB by 23 percent. Researchers at the Department of Nutrition aren't sure why the differences exist, but there's evidence that type O blood may flow better and clot less, and other types may be higher in bad cholesterol.

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Untreated sleep apnea

Scientists are uncovering more and more evidence that sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing periodically stops during sleep, is strongly linked to cardiovascular disease. It's not easy to sort out cause and effect, especially when people with sleep apnea are more likely to have other risk factors for heart disease like obesity and diabetes. But doctors at La Fe University and Polytechnic Hospital in Valencia, Spain, recently found that when sleep apnea in elderly patients was treated, their odds of cardiovascular death returned to normal.

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Early menopause

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, recently found that women who go through menopause early - before the of age 46 - have double the odds of heart attack or stroke compared to women who experience menopause when they're older. Although this doesn't mean menopause causes cardiovascular disease - the women in the early-menopause group were also more likely to have other risk factors like high BMI, diabetes and history of smoking - it does suggest that doctors can consider age of menopause an important health clue, say the researchers.

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Healthy weight, but an unhealthy belly

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. But recent Mayo Clinic research shows that people who have a perfectly normal weight can be at an even greater risk of death than obese people - if, that is, their waist-to-hip ratio happens to be high. Lesson learned: Don't assume your heart is healthy just because your body mass index (BMI) is low. If you have fat around your belly, that's a risk factor to take seriously.

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Shift work

People who do shift work are 23 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who don't, according to researchers at Western University, who examined almost three dozen existing studies before coming up with their conclusions. One possible reason for the risk: This kind of work schedule wreaks havoc on the body's circadian rhythm.

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History of child abuse

According to new research from the American Psychological Association, middle-aged women who remember being physically abused in childhood are at an increased risk for cardiovascular problems. In the study, these women were twice as likely as other women their age to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a bigger waistline and unhealthy cholesterol levels, which translates into a higher risk for heart disease. It's possible that childhood trauma can lead to higher stress and poor diet, even decades later.

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vitamin d

Low vitamin D

At the University of Copenhagen, a study following over 10,000 people in Denmark found evidence that low levels of vitamin D are linked to significantly higher rates of heart disease, heart attack and death. Researchers aren't sure whether vitamin D deficiency actually leads to heart disease or is just an indicator of poor health, although they're already working on the answer.

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women and heart disease

How to better your odds

So, should you boost your intake of vitamin D? Say no to the night shift at work? Get a total blood transfusion? There's still lots to learn about the associations between these factors and heart health, and the impacts they have on each other. But at the very least, say many of these researchers, you can use them as a reason to keep an eye out for symptoms of heart problems. And if you continue to do what you can to lower other risk factors, like quit smoking, treat high blood pressure and get regular exercise, you can often markedly reduce your odds of heart disease - no matter what your blood type or age of menopause.