Aging and heart problems

In a study following more than 10,000 people over 35 years, the presence of visible signs of aging signaled an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease. (Jesus Solana, Getty Images / November 13, 2012)

Visibly aging but young at heart? Don't count on it, researchers suggested.

In a study following more than 10,000 people over 35 years, the presence of visible signs of aging signaled an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Los Angeles and was conducted in Denmark by University of Copenhagen biochemist Dr. Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen and colleagues. The team analyzed data collected from participants in a large study of heart disease, noting whether subjects developed heart disease and also whether they had any of six signs of aging: baldness at the crown of the head, receding hairline at the temples, gray hair, wrinkles, earlobe crease and fatty deposits around the eyelids.

The amount of gray hair and wrinkles didn't make a difference, but people who had at least three of the other four aging traits studied had a 57 percent increased risk for heart attack and a 39 percent increased risk for heart disease when other risk factors were taken into account.

In a statement issued by the American Heart Association, the researchers reported that the risks of heart attack and heart disease went up with each additional aging trait across all age groups.

People in their 70s had the highest risk.

In the American Heart Association statement, study leader Tybjaerg-Hansen said that the findings suggested that "checking these visible aging signs should be a routine part of every doctor's physical examination."

MRIs may identify sudden cardiac risk

A test based on the noninvasive technique of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could help identify patients who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death, according to researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Sudden cardiac death is an unexpected death caused by a cardiovascular problem in a person who may or may not have had pre-existing heart disease. Sudden cardiac death kills 300,000 people in the United States each year, according to the American Heart Association.

The Northwestern study, published in July in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found that an MRI was effective in finding cardiovascular problems in pig hearts, said Dr. Jeffrey Goldberger, a professor of medicine and director of the Program in Cardiac Arrhythmias at the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation at Northwestern. He is a senior author of the study.

The study was based on pig models. It began about three years ago and was ongoing for a couple of years, Goldberger said.

"The goal was to prove whether noninvasive MRI heart imaging can demonstrate the risk of cardiac arrest or other heart disorders," Goldberger said.

It's important for a person who has had a heart attack to be checked for risk of sudden cardiac death, he said.

"The problem of sudden cardiac death oftentimes occurs in people who have had a heart attack already," Goldberger said. "If a patient has had a heart attack, she or he will have scar tissue, which can sometimes lead to circuits forming."

A circuit is made up of electrical signals that circulate within the tissue of the heart around the scar tissue and can cause the heart to beat rapidly, he said.

"I think the exciting part is that it's a noninvasive technique that can apply to humans to predict who will have ventricular tachycardia (dangerously fast heartbeat.) That's what we're hoping to test next," he said.

"Screening with a noninvasive MRI has no risk. To be able to accomplish a similar thing with a noninvasive test has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. I'm excited about the implications of this," Goldberger said.

Although the research only involved pigs, Goldberger said his team is studying ways to apply the screening technique to human hearts.

Iron, omega-3 supplements may affect kids differently