Silent Heart Disease Risk Factor Identified

Heart rate increases linked to high chance of cardiovascular death

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Certain risk factors such as family history or smoking status can increase your risk of heart disease. Some factors may be less obvious and present in otherwise healthy patients.

Patients with an increase in their resting heart rate over a decade appear to be at an increased risk of dying from ischemic heart disease or any cause.

"Talk to your doctor about your risk of heart disease."

Javaid Nauman, Ph.D., of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that patients with a high resting heart rate were more likely to die regardless of other risk factors, and even though they were free of heart disease. Previous research had suggested patients with a high resting heart rate might be at an increased risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, but the risk in changes in resting heart rate over time was unknown.

During the study investigators enrolled almost 30,000 apparently healthy men and women without heart disease. Slightly more than half were women. Their resting heart rates were measured on two occasions about 10 years apart, with the second measurement occurring between 1995 and 1997. A follow up was completed in December 2008.

More than 3,000 patients died during follow up. Of those 975 were attributed to cardiovascular disease and 388 from ischemic heart disease.

Researchers determined that participants with a resting heart rate of less than 70 beats a minute at the first reading, but greater than 85 beats per minute at the second measurement were 90 percent more likely to die from ischemic heart disease compared to patients with resting heart rates below 70 beats a minute at both readings.

Those with a resting heart rate between 70 and 85 beats per minute at the first measurement, and greater than 85 beats a minute at the second reading were at an 80 percent increased risk of ischemic heart disease. The association was similar from all causes of death, with more impact on weaker patients. There was no benefit found among participants with a decrease in resting heart rate between the two measurements.

Researchers said that additional research is needed, but noted that following resting heart rate could help pinpoint patients who may be at a higher risk of dying, though they might not have traditional risk factors.

"As expected from the good general health of the study participants, the observed moderate-to-strong increases in relative risk corresponded to small risk increases in absolute terms. However, it is not clear to what extent we can extrapolate our findings to less healthy individuals in whom the underlying risk is likely to be higher," wrote the authors.

The study will be published in the Dec. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Review Date: 
December 18, 2011
Last Updated:
December 20, 2011