Clues now may reveal heart disease later

INGLEWOOD Marg Mason was just 45-years-old when she suffered a heart attack, surprising her doctor, family and friends who all agreed the slender, diet-conscious woman didn't fit the profile of someone at risk for heart disease or stroke.

"They just didn't think it could happen to somebody my age, my profile. But it's made a lot of them aware, I believe," said Marg.

It turns out Marg is a borderline diabetic and had some blood pressure issues, too. Now three new studies suggest there are clues doctors may be missing that could indicate a patient, like Marg, is heading for trouble.

According to researchers those clues can be found in mammograms, blood-sugar tests and common daytime dozing.

"It would seem that those three different findings would have nothing to do with each other, but in fact all these describe things that have an association with heart disease or stroke," said Dr. Mason H. Weiss, MD of Apex Cardiology.

In the first study, researchers looked at the mammograms of 200 stroke patients and found calcium deposits in breast tissue in 56 percent of them. The bottom line? Women with artery buildup in their mammograms had a greater risk for heart disease and stroke.

"The radiologists typically don't report that because it's so-called a 'non-finding' for breast cancer, but it may be a significant finding for women who have early heart disease," said Dr. Weiss.

A second study found a link to stroke in blood sugar tests. Seventeen-hundred patients in their mid-60s were measured for blood-sugar and insulin levels after fasting. Those with higher scores had twice the risk of stroke over the next seven years compared to those with lower scores.

A third study documented the daytime dozing patterns of 2,000 people in their mid-70s. Researchers found the odds of having a stroke were nearly five times greater among heavy dozers compared to those who rarely nodded off. Doctors say the heavy dozers likely suffered from sleep apnea or other sleep disorders that triggered dangerous fluctuations in their blood pressure.

"I think what they're trying to do over here is focus on the stroke risk, and the fact is there is some simple things that are out there that they're glossing over that we should be paying more attention to these things," said Dr. Weiss.

The blood sugar test used in the study, called homeostasis model assessment (HOMA), measures a ratio of blood sugar and insulin levels. High scores can indicate a patient is borderline diabetic. Diabetes is one of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

As for the mammogram findings, doctors say it won't hurt to find out if calcifications are present in your screenings and to have a conversation with your doctor about what it may mean in your case.


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