Visible Signs of Aging Can Predict Increased Risk of Heart Disease

Study results presented at the American Heart Association 2012 Scientific Sessions show that visible signs of aging such as baldness and yellow fatty deposits around the eye are predictors for heart attack and heart disease risk.

According to study results presented at the American Heart Association 2012 Scientific Sessions, readily visible signs of aging (including graying hair, baldness at the crown of the head, and receding hairline) are reliable risk indicators for heart disease.

Routine physical examinations often include an assessment of whether a patient looks older than his or her actual age. This study tested the hypothesis that some visible signs of aging are indeed good indicators of a patient’s physiologic or biological age, and thus a good predictor for heart disease-related risks.

The study, titled “Aging Signs Predict Risk of Ischemic Vascular Disease Independent of Chronological Age,” found that patients with the following five visible aging signs: gray hair, receding hairline at the temples, yellow fatty deposits around the eyelid (xanthelasmata), baldness at the head’s crown, and earlobe crease, had a 57% increased risk of heart attack and a 39% increased risk for heart disease.

“The visible signs of aging reflect physiologic or biologic age, but they do not reflect chronologic age, and are independent of chronologic age,” said lead author Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, MD, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Researchers analyzed a total of 10,885 patients from the Danish general population (all within the Copenhagen Heart Study). The patients were age 45 and older, and 45% of the patients were women. Researchers reported that 7,537 of the patients had frontoparietal baldness (ie, receding hairline at the temples), 3,938 had baldness in the crown area of the head, 3,405 of the patients had earlobe creases, and 678 patients had yellow fatty deposits around their eyes.

Individually and combined, these signs predicted heart attack and heart disease independent of traditional risk factors. During a 35-year follow up, the authors reported that 3,401 of the patients had developed ischemic heart disease (IHD) and 1,708 of the patients had suffered a myocardial infarction (MI). Four out of the five aging signs (frontoparietal baldness, crown-top baldness, earlobe crease, and xanthelasmata) were predictive for increased risk of IHD and MI after multifactorial adjustment for age, other well-known cardiovascular event risk factors, and markers of patient’s socioeconomic status.

Xanthelasmata was the strongest individual predictor of both heart attack and heart disease.

“Checking these visible signs should be a routine part of every doctor’s physical examination,” said Tybjaerg-Hansen.