Young, Healthy and Headed For Heart Disease

Young adults with more visceral fat or a larger waist circumference have a greater atherosclerosis burden

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

(RxWiki News) A large population of seemingly healthy young adults appear to show discrete signs of heart disease even though they may not have any of the traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Though a build up of fat in artery walls called atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, is generally viewed as a disorder that affects older individuals, a surprising number of young people under the age of 35 already have it.

"A healthy diet and exercise protects your heart."

Dr. Eric Larose, an interventional cardiologist at the Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec and an assistant professor at Université Laval, said the proportion of young, apparently healthy adults who appear to be "the picture of health" yet already have atherosclerosis is staggering.

During the study researchers enrolled 168 participants, with an equal number of men and women, between the ages of 18 and 35. Those enrolled had no known cardiovascular disease or risk factors such as a family history of premature heart disease, diabetes, smoking, high blood cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Investigators took complete body measurements, including height, weight, body mass index and waist circumference. Participants also received MRIs so researchers could measure body fat deposits including fat under the skin, fat around the abdomen and chest and intra-abdominal or visceral fat.

Carotid artery plaque build up was also measured using MRI.

Researchers found that a large proportion didn't have traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis, but that they did show discrete signs, including greater waist circumference, and visceral fat covering the internal organs in the chest and abdomen.

Dr. Larose said that despite having normal weight and BMI, young adults with more visceral fat or a larger waist circumference have a greater atherosclerosis burden, increasing their risk for heart attack and stroke.

He suggested that waist circumference measurements at a doctor's office could be an easy way to measure heart disease risk in young patients who appear to be healthy.

The study, which has not been published, was recently presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011, hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

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Review Date: 
October 26, 2011
Last Updated:
October 26, 2011