Doctors warn of hidden risks for heart disease

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S. and about 630,000 Americans dying from heart disease each year, which is the equivalent to one in every four deaths.

But it's not just traditional risk factors we need to worry about. For example, doctors said even minor infections can pose a risk.

Heart attacks are 13 times higher in the week after respiratory infections, like the common cold, and 17 times higher in the week after flu-like illnesses.

High blood pressure and obesity raise our heart disease risk, but Dr. Prakash Balan, who is an interventional cardiologist at UTHealth/Memorial Hermann, said those aren't the only dangers people should be concerned about.

"There are probably many risk factors that we don't yet fully appreciate," he said.

In fact, diet soda may be one of those things that should be on our radar. Women who drink two diet sodas every day are 30 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular event and 50 percent more likely to die of heart-related disease. These numbers are based on preliminary research.

"We don't really know what those chemicals are doing to our body," Balan said.

Another danger? Hearing loss, especially the kind caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise. It might double your heart disease risk.

Dr. Konstantinos Charitakis said being a big sports fan can be a heart threat, too. A recent small study showed a 110 percent jump in spectators' heart rates.

"People that have already a blockage in coronary arteries are the ones that may develop symptoms or even a heart attack," Charitakis said.

Scientists said low levels of vitamin D are also linked with potential heart issues, and you can add sleep deprivation to the list of risk factors associated with heart disease.

On the Monday after losing an hour of sleep for daylight saving, heart attacks jump by 24 percent.

"The changes related to sleep habits, the difficulty in terms of adjusting to the change in time may potentially contribute," Balan said.

The best advice? Listen to your body.

"Pay attention to your symptoms. If you're having symptoms, get them checked out," Balan said.

Doctors said these hidden dangers pose the most risk to people who already have underlying coronary artery disease, but not everyone who has heart disease knows it. They advise people get a baseline assessment of your heart health to know exactly where you stand.
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