Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, refers collectively to a number of conditions that cause narrowed or blocked blood vessels and contribute to heart attacks, chest pain, or stroke. It is responsible for about 610,000 deaths in the US and causes around 735,000 people in the country to suffer heart attacks each year. Despite these staggering numbers, many instances of heart disease could be prevented through a healthier lifestyle.
Since February is American Heart Month, it’s a good idea to think about what you can do to minimize your risk of developing heart disease, and to identify any potential risk factors. One surprising way to protect your heart is to pay attention to your hearing.
Hearing loss and heart disease
The link between hearing loss and heart disease is well established. Research from Harvard University found that hearing loss occurs 54 percent more often in people with heart disease, compared to the general population. Hearing loss is also a known comorbidity of heart disease, with the two conditions often occurring simultaneously.
The reason is that the tiny hair cells in the inner ear responsible for conducting sound to the brain are especially vulnerable to poor blood flow resulting from narrowed blood vessels. If these cells fail to get sufficient oxygen through the blood, they can be damaged irreparably and leave you with diminished hearing. Given the effects of poor blood circulation on hearing, any detected hearing loss could be a warning sign of a larger issue with your cardiovascular system.
Keeping your heart healthy
While heart disease can lead to hearing loss, maintaining a healthy heart can reduce your risk. Many of the things you can do to take care of your heart will also help protect your hearing:
- Avoid smoking: Since smoking is known to be harmful to your heart and your inner ears, quitting the habit and avoiding secondhand smoke can help reduce the risk for both heart disease and hearing loss.
- Exercise: An active lifestyle is another way protect both systems. Whether you prefer walking, jogging, swimming, or other physical activity, exercising for 20-30 minutes per day, four or five days a week, can contribute to a healthy heart and healthy hearing.
- Eat well: Also important is proper nutrition. A heart-healthy diet should include plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, while avoiding foods with high amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.
Very few health conditions occur in a vacuum—what happens to one system can lead to problems in another part of the body. If you already have hearing loss, it’s important to speak to your healthcare professional about whether it indicates heart disease as well. And if you suspect you have hearing loss, its connection to your heart health should be reason enough to get your hearing tested.