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Cholesterol Deposits Around Eyes Linked to Heart Risk

THURSDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Men and women who develop visible deposits of cholesterol in the skin around their eyelids appear to face a higher risk of heart disease in general and suffering a heart attack in particular, new Danish research suggests.

The link between the skin condition and heart disease, however, is characterized as an association, rather than a clear case of "cause and effect."

Nonetheless, the study team led by Dr. Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, from the department of clinical biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, said that the finding could perhaps help physicians screen for heart disease.

And the research, published in the Sept. 15 online edition of the BMJ, "could be of particular value in societies where access to laboratory facilities and thus lipid profile measurement is difficult," the authors said in a journal news release.

Individuals who have the raised yellow patches around the eyes that indicate the collection of cholesterol in the skin -- known as "xanthelasmata" -- are not always easily identified in blood tests as having high cholesterol, the study authors noted.

That said, xanthelasmata and another condition called "arcus corneae" (distinguished by white or grey rings surrounding the cornea) have previously been determined to signal deposits of cholesterol.

To see how such deposits might affect heart disease risk, between 1976 and 2009 the research team surveyed and tracked nearly 13,000 Danish patients aged 20 to 93 who were participating in the Copenhagen City Heart Study.

Although none had heart disease at the time of the study launch, when the investigation began a little more than 4 percent had xanthelasmata, while nearly a quarter had arcus corneae.

Ultimately, more than 1,870 of the participants had a heart attack, and nearly 3,800 developed heart disease. Roughly 1,500 had a stroke and 1,815 developed cerebrovascular disease. All told, just over 8,500 died by the study's conclusion.

By that point, the study team found that having xanthelasmata was independently associated with bearing a higher risk for experiencing a heart attack and developing heart disease. It was also linked to a greater likelihood of dying within a 10-year period.

The finding held regardless of gender, smoking history, obesity and blood pressure/cholesterol levels, with men between the ages of 70 and 79 facing the highest risk.

Arcus corneae, however, was not linked to heart disease or heart attack risk, the researchers reported.

More information

For more on heart disease risk factors, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Sept. 15, 2011

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