Fatty Heart is Bad News

Pericardial fat can lead to heart disease even in healthy patients

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

(RxWiki News) When it comes to your body, most types of fat have negative implications. Fat around the heart is no different. It may cause heart disease even in healthy individuals, especially in men.

Fat around the heart can promote fats collecting and then hardening along artery walls, eventually causing blocked arteries that could lead to a heart attack or other heart conditions.

"Eat healthy to avoid obesity and heart issues."

Dr. David A. Bluemke, study author and director of radiology and imaging sciences at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Care, noted that individuals in the study had no symptoms and were otherwise healthy. He said that while they did not have significant coronary artery narrowing, plaque near the heart was still detected through MRI imaging.

Previous studies have shown a link between fat near the heart and artery plaque hardening in patients with severe coronary disease, but this research is the first to connect the fats with increased heart disease risk in healthy patients.

Plaques generally form irregularly in arteries, which causes thickening on one side of the artery but not the other. Having both a thick and thin side to arteries is called plaque eccentricity, and is a strong indicator of cardiovascular disease.

The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis showed that heart fat, also called pericardial fat, is more strongly related to coronary artery plaque than either body mass index or waist circumference.

Researchers examined 183 patients without clinical cardiovascular disease. About half were women and the mean age was 61. The majority of participants were overweight. Investigators used MRI imaging to measure both the thickest and narrowest artery wall thickness. Participants also received CT scans to determine the amount of fat around the heart. Pericardial fat is usually associated with being overweight or obese.

Dr. Bluemke found that the fat volume had a significant correlation with the degree of plaque eccentricity in both men and women. However, after making adjustments for BMI, waist circumference and other factors, the finding remained significant in men but not women. Dr. Bluemke said the finding shows yet another reason why obesity is dangerous.

The study was published in journal Radiology.

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Review Date: 
August 12, 2011
Last Updated:
August 17, 2011