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The Fattier Your Heart, the Greater Your Heart Disease Risk
Date:8/16/2011

By John Leighty
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The amount of hidden fat that collects around the heart may be a stronger indicator of cardiac disease risk than a bulging waistline or flabby thighs, a new study reports.

Heart fat hidden behind the rib cage -- known as pericardial fat -- appears to promote irregular plaque build-up along coronary artery walls that causes atherosclerosis and can trigger heart attacks, the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the study.

"It turns out there are specific areas around the heart where hidden fat seems to be promoting coronary disease, even in people without symptoms," said senior study author Dr. David Bluemke, director of radiology and imaging sciences at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Care.

"This is chest fat you'd never see by looking at someone," he added.

Pericardial fat is linked to being overweight or obese, according to the study in the Aug. 16 online edition of the journal Radiology.

The findings are from the ongoing Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a study of 6,800 participants aged 45 to 84 from six communities around the country who had no heart disease at enrollment. In this study, researchers looked at a smaller slice of the volunteers: 89 women and 94 men with an average age of 61 who, although most were overweight, were representative of the general population.

To look for signs of heart disease, the research team used noninvasive MRI to screen for plaque on the walls of the coronary artery and compared it with CT scans of heart fat volume. The NIH-sponsored study highlighted three main findings:

  • In people with no symptoms of coronary artery disease, the fat volume of the membrane around the heart is closely associated with the heart artery-clogging plaque found on the MRIs.
  • This pericardial fat appears to be more strongly related to corona
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