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Visible Signs of Aging May Predict Heart Disease

A new study links specific signs of aging to those who may be at a greater risk for heart disease.

Heart and stethoscope-- by Joann Jovinelly

The Gist

As it turns out, aging is more than skin deep. In fact, up to four specific signs of aging—receding hairline at the temples, baldness at the crown, creases on the earlobes, and flat yellowish deposits around the eyes—can be telltale signs that you have serious heart disease. 

In a new study presented today by the American Heart Association, lead study author Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, M.D. and professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, explained that the greatest risks were in men over the age of 70 who had multiple signs.

The greatest single predictor of who will eventually experience a heart attack is xanthelasmata, the slightly raised yet flat yellow plaques seen around the eyelids.

The Expert Take

Tybjaerg-Hansen, who has been researching the outward signs of aging as they relate to heart disease for several years, explains that people with xanthelasmata likely have high blood cholesterol. She recommends a class of drugs called statins for their treatment.

“Patients with xanthelasmata seem to have a propensity to deposit cholesterol in tissues. This is probably similar to forming atherosclerosis [clogged arteries] in the blood vessels. We think the eyelids mirror the arterial walls,” said Tybjaerg-Hansen.  

“Even though all patients with xanthelasmata don’t have raised cholesterol, they will probably deposit less cholesterol if they have less in their blood,” Tybjaerg-Hansen continued. “So I would consider statin treatment for those patients, even if their cholesterol is not high.”

Source and Method

In the new study, researchers analyzed 10,885 participants over age 40 and followed them for 35 years. 

Of the total number of patients (almost half of whom were women), 7,537 had receding hairline at the temples, 3,938 had baldness at the crown, 3,405 had earlobe creases, and 678 had xanthelasmata. After 35 years, 3,401 of the participants developed heart disease and 1,708 had experienced a heart attack. Again, the greatest single predictor of eventual heart disease and heart attack was xanthelasmata.

Overall, those participants with three or more signs had a 57 percent greater risk for heart attack and a 39 percent greater risk for heart disease.

The Takeaway

Physicians evaluating disease should also consider a person’s physical appearance, such as whether or not he or she is balding at the crown, has a receding hairline, creased earlobes, or xanthelasmata.

“The visible signs of aging reflect physiologic or biological age, not chronological age, and are independent of chronological age,” said Tybjaerg-Hansen.

Fatty, slightly raised yellowish deposits seen on the eyelids in older adults are now a red flag risk factor for heart disease and heart attack, independent of other more well known risk factors, such as obesity, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or smoking.

Other Research

In a 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal, xanthelasmata was also cited as an independent risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. In that study, also co-authored by Tybjaerg-Hansen, participants with xanthelasmata had a 53 percent increased risk of heart attack and heart disease compared to those without. Again, the greatest risks were found in those over the age of 70.

According to study authors, “Xanthelasmata [can] predict risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack], ischemic heart disease, severe atherosclerosis, and death in the general population, independent of well-known cardiovascular risk factors, including [blood] cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations.”

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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