Heart disease is the number one killer in the UK, and it is responsible for a death every eight minutes.
Symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations and breathlessness, according to the NHS.
While smoking and high blood pressure are among the well-known risk factors, research has found that going through traumatic experiences could also increase your chances of suffering.
A study presented this month to The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) revealed that there is mounting evidence psychosocial factors – meaning both psychological and social aspects – can affect vascular health, and may one day lead to heart disease.
There has been little previous research into the impact of traumatic experiences on heart disease.
In this new study, scientists tested whether a greater number of traumatic experiences during their lifetime was related to poorer endothelial function.
The endothelium is the inner lining of the heart and blood vessels.
For the purposes of the study, traumatic experiences were defined as events such as sexual harassment, death of a child, being in a car accident, experiencing a natural disaster, or being beaten or mugged.
They found that women who reported a higher number of traumatic experiences – three or more – had poorer endothelial function.
Additionally, they discovered that risk was particularly heightened when women had gone through the menopause.
For the study, researchers looked at 272 peri and post-menopausal women who were all non-smokers.
During the menopause transition there is known to be an increasing risk of heart disease.
“These findings underscore the importance of psychosocial factors, such as trauma exposure, in the development of heart disease risk in midlife women,” said Dr Rebecca Thurston, lead author of the study from the University of Pittsburgh.
Researchers suggested that physiological as well as physical risk factors should be taken into account.
“Given the large percentage of postmenopausal women affected by heart disease, this is an important study that should remind healthcare providers of the need to thoroughly discuss a woman’s history beyond simply asking about her physical health,” said Dr JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.
According to Heart UK, the eight key heart disease risk factors identified by the World Health Organization are alcohol use, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity.