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Why some healthy-looking young adults may still be at risk for heart disease

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Typically, individuals who don't have a history of heart disease or certain risk factors, such as smoking or high cholesterol, are at a lower risk of developing atherosclerosis, a buildup of fat in the walls of arteries that can trigger stroke or heart attacks.

But new research contradicts this notion and shows that a significant proportion of normal-weight, and apparently healthy, young people already have the beginning of cardiovascular disease. The findings were presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver B.C. reports:

[Researchers] studied 168 healthy normal-weight volunteers aged 18 to 35. The researchers used MRI to look at the condition of volunteers’ blood vessels and also at fat that was socked away deep inside the body around the organs – also known as visceral fat.

Almost half - 48 percent - of the volunteers showed signs of blood vessel thickening, an early indication of developing cardiovascular disease. MRI scans also showed hidden fat deposits in these seemingly thin people. And that’s what explains the thickening of the blood vessel walls, [study author Eric Larose] said.

There was some good news in the study, though. Larose and his colleagues determined that there was a simple way to determine, without costly MRI scans, who is likely to have thickening blood vessels: all you need to do is measure a person’s waist and hips. Study volunteers with signs of incipient heart disease tended to have hips that measured almost the same as or smaller than their waists.

Researchers say the findings also highlight the weaknesses of current screening strategies for heart disease.

Previously: Men with kids are at lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than their childless counterparts, Are young adults in denial about how lifestyle choices affect their health? and Gap exists in women’s knowledge of heart disease
Photo by Sara Björk

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