FRIDAY, Dec. 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Heart damage can occur in obese people without causing symptoms, and take place without other heart risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a new study says.
The researchers said their findings about this silent heart damage challenge the common belief that the risk of heart disease in obese people is mainly due to diabetes and high blood pressure, which are common in obese people.
"Obesity is a well-known 'accomplice' in the development of heart disease, but our findings suggest it may be a solo player that drives heart failure independently of other risk factors that are often found among those with excess weight," said lead investigator Dr. Chiadi Ndumele, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.
The study included more than 9,500 heart disease-free people, ages 53 to 75, in Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina who were followed for more than 12 years. During that time, 869 of them developed heart failure.
Severely obese people were more than twice as likely to develop heart failure as those with normal weight, the researchers found. The more obese a person was, the greater the risk of heart failure.
Obesity independently increased the risk of heart muscle damage and the risk for heart failure, and this damage often caused no symptoms, according to the study published recently in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure.
Heart failure refers to the heart's inability to pump blood as it should.
"The direct relationship we found between obesity and subclinical heart damage is quite potent and truly concerning from a public health standpoint given the growing number of obese people in the United States and worldwide," Ndumele said in a Hopkins news release.
Another expert agreed.
"These results are a wake-up call that obesity may further fuel the growing rate of heart failure, and clinicians who care for obese people should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension," Dr. Roger Blumenthal, director of Hopkins' Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, said in the news release.
"Obese people, even when free of cardiovascular symptoms, should be monitored for the earliest signs of heart failure and counseled on ways to improve their lifestyle habits," he advised.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about heart disease prevention.
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