Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. According to the most recent statistics from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, heart disease is South Carolina's leading killer. SCDHEC reports show that during 2007, 8,983 South Carolinians died from heart disease; and in 2008, heart disease accounted for 55,663 hospitalizations in the state.

Becoming aware of the risk factors for heart disease is the first step to helping prevent it. Most people are familiar with the traditional risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity and smoking. While these usual culprits still hold true, medical researchers are uncovering other factors that can affect your heart health.

Depression and stress: Mental health plays an important role in a person's overall health. Many studies have shown that depression and stress can have a negative impact on heart health, particularly heart disease. Unmanaged depression and stress can cause arterial damage, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system and abnormal heart rhythms. Post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder also have shown a connection with heart disease. Studies have shown that panic disorder nearly doubled the risk of heart disease, while people with PTSD are more likely to experience quickly progressing heart disease.

Insomnia: Insomnia can contribute to a variety of health-related problems, including poor concentration, muscle aches, depression and fatigue. Insomnia also has been connected to heart disease. Researchers have found that those who suffer from insomnia on a regular basis or who wake up multiple times throughout the night are at higher risk of experiencing a heart attack.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of arthritis that occurs when a person's immune system attacks cartilage, bone and sometimes internal organs like the lungs or heart, causing chronic inflammation of a person's joint lining. The inflammation contributes to plaque developing in the arteries that can break off and trigger strokes or other heart disease events. The more advanced the RA, the greater the risk of having heart disease risk factors such as hardened arteries.

Migraines/headaches: Heart disease has been linked to migraines. Studies have shown that people who experience certain types of migraines, especially those accompanied by an aura, are more prone to heart disease risk factors such as stroke and high blood pressure. Some medical researchers believe that the connection might be due to a common genetic factor.

Psoriasis: While the connection between psoriasis and heart disease isn't a new discovery, a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association provided the most extensive findings to prove the correlation. The study showed that people suffering from psoriasis are more likely to have high cholesterol, diabetes and other heart disease risk factors. Additionally, psoriasis tremendously raises the risk of experiencing a heart attack.

While these risk factors alone put you at risk for heart disease, the presence of these factors in addition to one of the more common risk factors can increase your risk even further. Make sure to keep your heart healthy by watching your diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Don't forget to visit your doctor regularly and speak with them about any concerns your may have about your heart health.

For more information, visit PalmettoHealth.org/HeartHospital or call 803-434-7808.

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