Nov. 6, 2012 (Los Angeles) -- A receding hairline and certain other signs of aging may be far more than cosmetic problems. They can be signs of poor heart health.
Danish researchers found that people with four signs of aging -- receding hairline at the temples, baldness at the head’s crown, earlobe crease, and yellow fatty deposits around the eyelid -- were 57% more likely to have a heart attack and 39% more likely to develop heart disease over a 35-year period.
The study doesn’t prove that aging signs cause heart disease or vice versa. "But looking old for your age is a marker of poor [heart] health," says researcher head Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, MD, professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen.
Kathy Maglite, MD, MBA, director of women's cardiac services at St. John's Health Center in Los Angeles, says the findings are a reminder to doctors "to look at their patients."
"Sometimes, doctors are so busy putting the blood pressure cuff on, and so on, that we forget to step back and take in the patient's overall appearance. When I do, I notice that people having heart surgery look old for their age," she says.
The findings were presented here at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012.
Aging and Heart Health: Details
The study involved about 11,000 men and women aged 40 years and older in 1976 to 1978. Nurses and laboratory technicians rated the quantity of gray hair, prominence of wrinkles, the type and extent of baldness, and the presence of earlobe crease and eyelid deposits.
Of the total, 7,537 had receding hairline at the temples, 3,938 had crown top baldness, 3,405 had earlobe crease, and 678 had fatty deposits around the eye.
Over the next 35 years, 3,401 people developed heart disease and 1,708 had a heart attack.
These signs predicted heart attack and heart disease independent of traditional risk factors, including age, sex, obesity, family history of heart disease, and others.
Fatty deposits around the eye were the strongest individual predictor of heart attack in men and women, associated with a 35% increased risk. In men, receding hairline at the temples was associated with a 40% increased risk.
Heart attack and heart disease risk rose with each additional sign of aging in all age groups and among men and women. The highest risk was for those in their 70s: Those with three or four of the aging signs had a 40% chance of being diagnosed with heart disease over the next 10 years.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.