6 Surprising Heart Disease Warning Signs (and What to Do about Them)

Protect your heart: Check out these uncommon signs that you may be at risk.

ByABC News
February 17, 2012, 3:44 PM

Feb. 18, 2012— -- High blood pressure, stress, and diabetes are all familiar warning signs that someone's at risk for cardiovascular disease. But there are other red flags that most of us are not aware of, such as hair loss, or problems in the bedroom. By paying attention to risk factors, and using them as cues to make healthy changes in your life, there's a lot that can be done to prevent cardiovascular damage early on, says Dr. Rene Alvarez, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cardiovascular Institute. Here are six unusual signs of heart disease -- and what you can do to protect yourself.

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1. Sexual dysfunction

Heart disease may be the last thing on your mind when you're cuddling close to your significant other, but trouble performing may be a concern for heart health as well as sexual health. Dr. Alvarez says that although sexual dysfunction in men and women is different, the issue linking it to heart disease is the same: When blood vessels don't work well, sexual problems can occur. "If you have dysfunction in one circulatory area you have it in others," he says.

Do this. Treat both issues. With good medical therapy and healthy lifestyle changes, both sexual dysfunction and heart disease can be avoided. Dr. Alvarez recommends regular exercise, and talking with your physician about daily aspirin use and your vascular health, to resolve both problems.

2. Male pattern baldness

Loss of hair is more than an issue of appearance -- it may mean loss of circulation, according to a correlation between top rear head balding and cardiovascular disease described in a recent t issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. Dr. Alvarez says lack of circulation to the hair follicles may be related to heart circulation, although other factors may play a role in the connection. "Some patients who have male pattern baldness may smoke, have hypertension, or a genetic predisposition relating to heart disease," he notes.

Do this. Watch and be aware. Knowing your family history -- both of baldness and heart disease—can help you asses your own risk. If either runs in the family, it's extra reason to take steps to prevent hypertension and high cholesterol levels, and to avoid or quit smoking.

3. Snoring and sleep apnea

Sawing logs may cause your heart to struggle. A study from Emory University in Atlanta found that the obstructed airways in people who have sleep apnea or snore were linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Disturbed sleep may be a predisposition of high blood pressure and diabetes, both contributing to heart disease, says Dr. Alvarez.

Do this. Prevent future problems now. The good news is that this warning sign gives you lots of time to take action. "Sleep-disordered breathing typically occurs decades before it's diagnosed, and decades before signs of cardiovascular disease events," says Dr. Alvarez. If you have these nighttime symptoms, take a sleep test and get advice from a specialist to improve your quality of sleep and quality of life, he suggests.

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