One of the largest studies examining heart disease in women shows that early signs can develop as early as adolescence. The study by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center shows that thickening of the heart or an increase in heart mass --important predictors of heart disease in women - are developing early on and also reveals that obesity is the main factor behind these changes in heart geometry.
Researchers performed echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) on 575 healthy women, all of whom were approximately 19 years old. One of four had an increase in either the mass or the thickness of the wall of the left ventricle (left ventricular hypertrophy), the main pumping chamber of the heart. In addition, left ventricular (LV) hypertrophy was highly related to obesity - young women with LV hypertrophy were likely to be obese.
"These results suggest that preventive efforts should be aimed at weight control," said Tom Kimball, director of echocardiography at Cincinnati Children's and senior author of the study.
"Echocardiography should be considered a screening tool in obese adolescent and young adult women to identify those at risk for cardiovascular disease," he added.
The researchers also found that LV hypertrophy was more common in young African American women than Caucasian women. This was not due to differences in blood pressure, however, but to the fact that African American women were significantly more likely to be obese than Caucasian women.
In the study, 33 per cent of African American women were obese, and 16 per cent of Caucasian women were obese.
Cardiovascular disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States. Yet, heart disease research has often excluded women as subjects.
The study will be presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta.