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07 November 2012

Visible signs of ageing may predict heart disease

Common visible signs of ageing may not just be a vanity or employment problem. They may also be a harbinger of heart disease.

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Common visible signs of ageing may not just be a vanity or employment problem. They may also be a harbinger of heart disease.

In a large, long-term study, people who displayed three to four signs of ageing, such as receding hairlines at the temples, baldness at the crown of the hear, earlobe creases or yellow fatty deposits around the eyelids had a 57% increased risk of heart attack and a 39% increased risk of developing heart disease, Danish researchers found.

Fatty cholesterol deposits around the eyes was the strongest individual predictor of both heart attack and heart disease, according to data presented on Tuesday at the American Heart Association scientific meeting in Los Angeles. There was a 35% increase in heart attacks among subjects with the condition, researchers found.

"The visible signs of ageing reflect physiologic or biologic age and are independent of chronologic age," said Dr Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, lead investigator of the Copenhagen Heart Study and a professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen.

Researchers were able to rule out gray hair and wrinkles as predictors of heart disease. Dr Tybjaerg-Hansen said those factors appear to reflect chronological age rather than health issues.

How the research was done

Beginning in 1976, researchers analysed nearly 11 000 subjects 40 years of age and older for a variety of common ageing signs. Of them, 7 537 had receding hairlines at the temples, 3 938 had baldness at the crown of the head, 3 405 had earlobe crease and 678 sported fatty deposits around the eye.

In 35 years of follow-up through May of 2011, 3 401 of those subjects developed heart disease and 1 708 suffered a heart attack, researchers found.

The ageing signs predicted risk of heart attack and heart disease independent of traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking, researchers said.

The risk increased with each additional sign of ageing in all age groups among men and women, with the highest risk found among those who had three or four of the problematic signs.

"Checking these visible signs of ageing should be a routine part of every doctor's physical examination," Dr Tybjaerg-Hansen said.

Dr Tybjaerg-Hansen, who got involved in the Copenhagen study in the late 80s, said lifestyle changes and more intensive lipid-lowering therapy should be considered for patients who look older than their age.

One limitation of the study was that it followed an all white population, so the results cannot necessarily be applied to other races and ethnic groups without further study, she said.

(Reuters Health, November 2012)

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