THURSDAY, Aug. 7, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Having excess fat around your heart may be more dangerous than a high body mass index (BMI) or a thick waist in terms of your heart attack risk, according to new research.
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center researchers and colleagues measured fat deposits around the heart (pericardial fat) in 159 people, ages 55 to 74, and found that those with the highest levels of pericardial fat were 4.65 times more likely to have calcified coronary plaque in the arteries. While calcified coronary plaque itself isn't considered risky, it's associated with the presence of less stable fatty deposits that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
The researchers didn't find an association between volume of pericardial fat and BMI or waist circumference.
Their study is published in the August issue of the journal Obesity.
"Our findings suggest that local fat deposits, rather than total body fat, are most related to calcified coronary plaque. Inflammatory mediators released from pericardial fat may promote inflammation in local coronary arteries and lead to coronary atherosclerosis," study lead author Dr. Jingzhong Ding, an assistant professor of gerontology, said in a Wake Forest news release.
Even thin people can have fat around the heart, noted Ding, adding that he wants to find out whether the buildup of fat around the heart can be prevented.
"Because coronary heart disease kills so many people, it is imperative to find new treatments and prevention strategies," he said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians outlines heart attack warning signs and risk factors.