Beauty and the Heartbeat

Having a healthy ticker is key for good health (duh!) but did you also know that cardiovascular health is directly tied to your beauty?There are subtle, sneaky red flags hiding in plain sight in the form of beauty issues. Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you and you can halt the advance of cardiovascular disease.What is your mouth telling you?Take your smile, for instance. Smiling is the hallmark of happiness, but for some, there’s a reason to frown: Your pearly whites will increase your risk of heart disease if you don’t treat them right. Periodontitis—marked by bright red, swollen gums that bleed easily—is a gum disease caused by inflammation and infection, which can eventually lead to the breakdown of the tissue and bone that support your teeth.Inflammation in the mouth may sound the alarm, boosting inflammation throughout the body, including in the arteries, where it may lead to a heart attack and stroke. In fact, a 2007 meta-analysis published in the American Heart Journal found that people with periodontitis were 114 percent more likely to develop coronary heart disease.Turn that frown upside down: A simple habit that most people forgo can help put the kibosh on periodontitis. You guessed it—flossing. When you floss as well as brush your teeth, you kick out the bad bacteria that can cause inflammation in the gums.Balding and…earlobes? Yep—both can show signalsFor guys, an ever-increasing bald spot is often a blow to their ego, but hair loss may mean their heart health is also taking a hit. A loss of locks—namely, going bald at the top of the head—may signal a loss of circulation that can put them at risk for cardiovascular disease.And while you’re staring at your man’s head, check his (and your own) earlobes. It sounds bizarre, but wonky folds in your earlobes can reveal telltale signs of heart disease risk. Believe it or not, the earlobe is considered an important skin marker that may point to the presence or severity of coronary artery disease. Diagonal creases across the lobe are associated with higher rates of cardiac events, so check those lobes often.Beware of chronic puffinessIf your rings are too tight on your fingers or you have to squeeze yourself into your shoes, you may chalk it up to putting on a few extra pounds or being bloated after sucking down a few margaritas. But a puffy face, fingers, arms or legs may mean a more serious condition is lurking beneath the surface. The swelling (called edema) may be caused by tiny blood vessels leaking fluid into the surrounding tissue, making the area swell like a balloon at a birthday party. Although you can develop edema just from sitting at your desk for too long, persistent swelling can also indicate congestive heart failure, as well as lung, liver, kidney and thyroid diseases.“If you have swelling of the legs or ankles, you need to get your heart checked out,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Program. “Edema is what you see, but there can be an underlying heart problem, like that the blood isn’t returning to your heart fast enough, or a kidney problem. If only one leg is swollen and painful, there can be a blood clot in the vein, known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.” Having a family history of blood clots puts you at risk for DVT, along with taking oral contraceptives and sitting for hours on long plane or car rides.WATCH VIDEO: A Review of EdemaCheck your toesWhile we’re focused on the lower extremities, another indicator to look out for is sores on the feet or toes that are super-slow to heal, or persistent redness and skin color changes. If diabetes isn’t to blame, peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, may be at play. The condition crops up when arteries in the arms, legs and feet get clogged with fatty deposits, which reduces blood flow to the legs. The lack of blood flow not only slows wound healing on the surface, it can also bring on leg muscle pain when you walk. What’s more, having blocked arteries in the legs means you’re likely to have them elsewhere in the body—including the heart—which makes PAD a red flag for heart disease.Don’t ignore skin issuesThere are also certain skin conditions that go hand-in-hand with heart problems. “All autoimmune diseases—psoriasis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis—have been related to an accelerated risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Joan M. Bathon, M.D., director of the division of rheumatology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.“Some of these conditions have more obvious outward appearances than others, affecting the skin, while some affect the joints. The skin is one of those organs that could be considered a mirror of your heart health.” Severe cases of psoriasis (a skin condition that rears its ugly head as itchy, flaky, scaly patches of skin anywhere on the body, including the nails, possibly leaving them rippled or pitted) are an independent risk factor of heart disease. That’s because psoriasis is an inflammatory condition that can cause chronic, body-wide inflammation, which ups your chances of a heart attack.Other facial clues to keep an eye out for is a rash across the nose and cheeks, which gets worse after being in the sun, notes Bathon. Although it might look like a harmless case of rosacea or blushing, a pink or red rashy patch may be caused by another inflammatory autoimmune disease – lupus, which can destroy your joints, skin and other organs and is linked to cardiovascular disease.If you spot any of these red flags, let your physician know pronto. He or she can assess the real risk based on your personal and family health history—and take steps to help protect your heart.

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