ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- Women with a history of certain diseases or illnesses may be at a greater risk for developing heart disease. For women who are overweight, smoke, don’t exercise, or are genetically prone to heart disease the risk is even greater.

Dr. Heather Stahura with Capital Cardiology Associates said she wants preventative cardiology to be as common as having a pap smear or mammogram. She said she also wants women to understand some cancer treatments or short-term ailments like gestational diabetes or gestational hypertension increase a woman’s chance of developing heart disease.

“(If) you had gestational diabetes which is diabetes when you’re pregnant, or gestational hypertension, high blood pressure, we now know those things, even though you only had it for that small period of time, puts you at risk for heart disease in the future,” she said.

Dr. Stahura said she would like to see patients with a history of autoimmune disease, cancer treatment, diabetes, gestational diabetes, or hypertension get a cardiac evaluation and make sure there are no underlying heart issues.

“The great thing is so many people are surviving cancer therapy nowadays but unfortunately have a higher risk of heart disease later,” she said. “We want these people to come in so we can address concerns.”

Autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and scleroderma all increase the chance for heart disease because they cause inflammation, according to John’s Hopkins.

“Inflammation is public enemy number one to your arteries,” Dr. Stahura said. “That inflammation over time can cause destruction or can increase cholesterol deposition into artery lining and that can lead to early heart disease, heart attacks, requiring stenting or surgical intervention.”

Heart disease is a major complication and the leading cause of death for patients with lupus. It can cause coronary artery disease, heart valve leaks, outer heart layer irritation, and heart failure, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Scleroderma, a rare disease that involves the hardening/tightening of skin/connective tissue, can affect multiple organs and organ systems. Scarring of the heart tissue can occur increasing the risk of developing abnormal heartbeats, congestive heart failure, and inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. It can also cause the heart to wear out from pressure on the right side, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Cancer treatment

Radiation to the chest area and some drugs used for chemotherapy treatment can increase the risk of cardiovascular damage. Radiation increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Chemotherapy increases the risk of damage to the heart or peripheral blood vessels and can cause problems with clotting or blood lipids, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Cardiotoxicity, when the heart and/or vascular system is damaged from cancer treatments, can also be a long-term effect of receiving targeted (molecular) therapy, monoclonal antibodies, and cancer prevention drugs.

“All cancer survivors should stay vigilant for any new heart-related symptoms during and after treatment and report them right away to their physician. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, or a rapid, irregular heartbeat,” said Harvard Health.


People with diabetes are two times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, and at a younger age than people without diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. Damage to blood vessels or nerves that control the heart over time due to high blood sugar.

The CDC said the reason for this is because diabetics are more prone to high blood pressure, high LDL “bad” cholesterol, and having high triglycerides.

Gestational hypertension

Approximately 10% of pregnancies are accompanied by gestational hypertension. Women who had gestational hypertension during pregnancy are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease in general, based on a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Rather than completely disappearing after the pregnancy, women with pregnancy-induced hypertension may carry changes not initially recognized, according to research on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website.

“The structural and functional cardiovascular changes do not completely reverse at 1 year post-partum and are known to have strong prognostic value for future cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in non-pregnant subjects,” the research said.

If there is one thing Dr. Stahura wants to emphasize, it’s how important exercise is in the prevention of heart disease and in the recovery of cardiovascular events like a heart attack. She said it’s important for women to take care (of) themselves. “As women, we always put other people in front of ourselves, I’m asking women to put themselves first and really know that you’re important.”