Having too much fat around your heart drastically increases the chance of heart failure, a new study has found.
In the study, published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that having high amounts of pericardial fat (the technical term for fat around the heart) doubled the risk of heart failure in women, and raised it in men by 50%.
Using data from a long-term heart study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers looked at chest CT scans of nearly 7,000 Americans between ages 45 and 84. None of the study participants had heart disease when the study began. But over the next 17 years, 400 of them developed heart failure.
The scientists found that having excess pericardial fat raised the risk of heart failure in both women and men—even after adjusting for well-known risk factors for heart failure such as age, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and previous heart attacks.
Much Higher Risk Found in Women
But the risk was not the same in both women and men: Researchers found a 100% increase (or doubled risk) in women, and about a 50% increase in men.
The researchers noted that excess pericardial fat was "weakly or moderately" correlated to signs of being overweight or obese, such as body mass index, waist girth, hip circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio.
"For nearly two decades we have known that obesity, based on simple measurement of height and weight, can double one's risk of heart failure, but now, we have gone a step further by using imaging technology to show that excess pericardial fat, perhaps due to its location close to the heart muscle, further augments the risk of this potentially fatal condition — heart failure," said lead researcher Satish Kenchaiah, MD, associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai.
He added: "This work provides us with an important tool to stratify patients into higher and lower risk of heart failure, which can possibly lead to early intervention and heart failure prevention to ultimately save people's lives."
Pericardial Fat May Be Separate Risk Factor
The researchers also found that excess pericardial fat elevated the risk for heart failure above and beyond the usual heart risks that come with being overweight or obese. They said the link was the same across all ethnic groups studied.
"Our research provides strong evidence that excess pericardial fat substantially raises the risk of heart failure," said Kenchaiah. "Additional studies are needed to confirm our findings. Future research in this field should also focus on ways and means, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active, to achieve and maintain optimal body weight and reduce and avoid fat deposition around the heart."
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