Race, weight gain could help predict women at risk for heart disease

According to some new research from the University of Pittsburgh, a physician could determine a woman’s risk for developing heart disease by their race and identifying where on their bodies they store fat.

The study, published online Aug. 2 in the journal Menopause, was led by Samar El Khoudary, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Her data showed that black women who stored fat around their midsection during theirs 50s are also more likely to accumulate fat around their hearts. However, this finding differs in white women—their risk of having a fatty heart is higher no matter where they gain weight.

"Excess fat around the heart, in both men and women, is an evolving risk factor for heart disease. But how can clinicians see it at a regular physical? They can't without a special heart scan," El Khoudary said in a statement. "This study, coupled with our previous study in men, gives doctors another tool to evaluate their patients and get a better sense of their heart disease risk. It also may lead to suggestions for lifestyle modifications to help patients lessen that risk."

The study included more than 520 women from Pittsburgh and Chicago who were enrolled in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. El Khoudary evaluated participants’ CT scans and blood pressure. All the women were in varying states of menopause and were about 51 years old.

After accounting for lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, the data showed that among both black and white women, the more fat they carry overall, the higher their risk for a fatty heart.

But white women with higher body mass indexes (BMI) had significantly more heart fat than black women with the same BMI. In black women, the levels of heart fat were greater if they had more fat in their midsection, compared to white women with the same amount of fat in their midsection.

"We've now come to very similar conclusions that show excess abdominal fat is worse for both black men and women, and a higher BMI is worse for white men and women when it comes to their odds of having more fat around their hearts," El Khoudary said. "There is something going on here that warrants further investigation to determine why it is happening and what tailored interventions doctors may prescribe to help their patients lower their risk."