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Slightly unhealthy middle aged traits linked with earlier heart attacks and strokes

Slightly unhealthy middle aged traits linked with earlier heart attacks and strokes

Middle-aged people who have three or more ‘unhealthy’ traits have heart attacks and strokes two years sooner, highlighting the importance of screening and early detection, say Swedish researchers.

Those classed as having metabolic syndrome – with a slightly high waist circumference, and marginally increased blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels – but who otherwise feel well are generally unaware of the risk, the researchers said.

The study looked at three decades of data from more than 34,000 adults in their 40s and 50s who had taken part in a cardiovascular screening programme in primary care, which measured their height, weight, blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood glucose and waist to hip circumference. They also answered lifestyle and health questions.

They were classed as having metabolic syndrome if they had ticked yes on three or more of: a waist circumference of over 102 cm for men or 88 cm for women; total cholesterol 6.1 mmol/l or above; 130 mmHg or higher systolic blood pressure and/or 85 mm Hg or higher diastolic blood pressure; and fasting plasma glucose above 5.6 mmol/l.

Analysis of more than 5,000 individuals with metabolic syndrome over an average of 27 years found they were 30% more like to die when compared with 10,000 controls matched for age and sex.

There was also a 35% increased risk of non-fatal heart attack and stroke in those with metabolic syndrome when compared with the control group, also taking into account factors such as activity and education levels, body mass index and whether they lived alone.

And the median time to first non-fatal heart attack or stroke was 16.8 years in the metabolic syndrome group and 19.1 years in the control group – a 2.3 year difference, the researchers reported at the European Society for Cardiology annual congress.

Blood pressure was the riskiest component, particularly for women in their 40s, highlighting the value of keeping it under control, the researchers concluded.

Study author Dr. Lena Lönnberg of Västmanland County Hospital, Sweden said: ‘Many people in their 40s and 50s have a bit of fat around the middle and marginally elevated blood pressure, cholesterol or glucose but feel generally well, are unaware of the risks and do not seek medical advice.

‘This scenario, called metabolic syndrome, is a growing problem in Western populations where people are unknowingly storing up problems for later in life.

‘This is a huge missed opportunity to intervene before heart attacks and strokes that could have been avoided occur.’

It follows previous studies that have shown that people with metabolic syndrome are at higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and premature death.

Dr. Lönnberg added: ‘As metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors, the level of each individual component does not have to be severely raised. In fact, most people live with slightly raised levels for many years before having symptoms that lead them to seek health care.’


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