Bad habits, non-cholesterol risk factors in youth linked to fatty plaques

Dallas, March 20 A new study links "non-lipid" risk factors obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes to the development of early atherosclerosis in youth with recommended cholesterol levels, according to a report in todays Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers in the Pathobiological Determinants of Atherosclerosis in Youth (PDAY) study examined autopsies of 856 males and females aged 15-34 with normal cholesterol levels. All had died in accidents, homicides or suicides. Those who had risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure or obesity already had fatty streaks and artery-clogging plaques in the abdominal aorta and in the right coronary artery, even though they had recommended cholesterol levels.

"The strong association between cholesterol levels and heart disease may have given some the false idea that other risk factors are unimportant. Weve probably under-emphasized non-lipid risk factors," says Henry C. McGill Jr., M.D., the studys lead author and senior scientist emeritus at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio. "The message of this study is that all cardiovascular risk factors should be controlled in children and adolescents."

Some authorities have questioned the importance of non-lipid risk factors in the young, but this study clearly shows that the presence of non-lipid risk factors in young people is associated with more arterial plaques that lead to coronary heart disease in middle age. Nearly half the individuals possessed at least one non-lipid risk factor, and 13 percent had two, with smoking and hypertension the most prevalent.

Atherosclerosis develops in two stages: the first stage is an accumulation of fat-filled cells in the inner lining of the artery, called a fatty streak. The second stage is a thickened plaque covering a fatty core that gradually blocks the artery and slowly cuts off blood supply to the heart, or provoke

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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