Just about everyone has been shocked to hear about a fit, seemingly healthy person who died suddenly from a heart attack in his or her early 40s. Such tragedies are devastating for families who have lost a loved one–and scary for the person’s friends and coworkers, who wonder how someone who appeared to be in perfect health could fall victim to a heart attack. Did the person’s doctor miss something?

Unlike standard care, which checks patients for traditional CVD risk factors, such as high cholesterol, smoking or high blood pressure, the BaleDoneen Method also uses advanced lab tests and imaging to directly check each patient for hidden signs of arterial disease, which often causes no symptoms until it gets severe enough to spark a heart attack or stroke. While this comprehensive approach provides the most accurate risk assessment, a wide range of nontraditional “red flags,” including having certain autoimmune diseases, may signal elevated risk for CV events. If you’re one of the 23.5 million Americans who have autoimmune diseases, here’s what you need to know to take optimal care of your heart health.

  1. The effect of autoimmune diseases on heart risk depends on which disease you have. For example, a recent study reported that people with lupus are up to 50 times more likely to have a heart attack than those without the disease, while other research reports that heart attack risk is doubled in those with Sjögren’s syndrome. However, a systematic review that compared 156,108 people with various autoimmune diseases with 373,851 healthy people of the same age and gender found that overall, those with autoimmune conditions had a 20 percent rise in risk for developing CVD and/or type 2 diabetes. Of all the conditions the researchers studied, the one with the least cardiovascular impact was Crohn’s disease (a bowel disorder), which hiked CVD and diabetes risk by 6 percent over an 11-year period.
  2. Chronic inflammation is a key reason why autoimmune diseases are linked to higher risk for CVD and diabetes. A family of more than 100 conditions, autoimmune diseases all work the same way: The body turns on itself because the immune system mistakes healthy cells, tissues or organs for foreign invaders, unleashing normally protective reactions, such as inflammation, that never end. In the systematic review, the highest risk for CVD and/or diabetes was found in autoimmune disease sufferers with the most severe inflammation.
  3. Psoriasis is not just skin deep. October 29 marks World Psoriasis Day, dedicated to raising awareness of an autoimmune disease that is often mistakenly thought to mainly be a cosmetic issue. Actually, younger patients with severe psoriasis have a 2.5 times higher risk of suffering a fatal heart attack or stroke than people of the same age and sex without the disease. What’s more, people with severe psoriasis may suffer their first CV event by age 40. This suggests that even young people with psoriasis should consider getting a comprehensive BaleDoneen Method health assessment.
  4. All heart attacks and strokes are potentially preventable. While having an autoimmune disease can raise risk for developing CVD–the leading killer of American men and women–the good news is that there are a variety of effective, science-backed treatments that help you avoid CVD. If you already have it, therapies include personalized lifestyle and dietary changes, oral wellness (since inflammation from gum disease can contribute to CV risk), medications and supplements. A new peer-reviewed study shows that the BaleDoneen Method is highly effective at rapidly shrinking and stabilizing arterial plaque in people with CVD, so it won’t leap out and cause a heart attack or stroke.