Major new study links IBD to increased heart attack risk

A study that involved 22 million participants suggests that there is a link between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. The study was carried out by a team of researchers from the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute who examined the potential role IBD may have in the development of heart disease and heart attacks.

Inflammation is a recognized risk factor of heart disease. In fact, studies have shown links between chronic inflammatory conditions, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and increased heart disease risk. Meanwhile, IBD is an umbrella term for two chronic inflammatory conditions affecting the digestive system – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

The research team recruited more than 22 million patients whom they studied for three years. In their study, they used heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, as an indicator for heart disease. Moreover, they used IBM’s Explorys, which is a large database that collects electronic medical records from 26 healthcare systems in the U.S.

Throughout their study, the researchers found that heart attacks were nearly twice as common in patients with IBD – 5.9 percent of individuals with IBD had a heart attack in comparison to the 3.5 percent of participants without IBD. In addition, they discovered that traditional risk factors for heart disease, which include high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, were also more common in participants with IBD.

When the researchers considered the age, race, sex, and other traditional heart disease risk factors, they found that patients with IBD had approximately 23 percent greater chance of developing a heart attack. Younger patients, who were 40 years old and younger, were found to have the greatest risk. Meanwhile, IBD is commonly seen in individuals between 15 to 30 years old. Furthermore, aside from younger age at diagnosis, female participants were linked to greater levels of inflammation and more aggressive and disabling disease.

“The disproportionately increased levels of inflammation in younger patients who may not otherwise have the traditional heart disease risk factors may explain the increased risk seen in these patients,” said Muhammad Panhwar, one of the researchers of the study.

The researchers hope that their study will encourage more health experts to examine patients more thoroughly for heart disease as more than three million people in the U.S. have IBD. The findings of the study also suggest that IBD should be recognized as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

More about IBD

As mentioned earlier, there are two types of inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes long-lasting inflammation and sores or ulcers in the innermost lining of the large intestine and rectum. On the other hand, Crohn’s disease is the condition characterized by the inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, which frequently spreads deep into affected tissues.

The definite cause of IBD remains undetermined, but one possible cause is an immune system malfunction. There is an abnormal immune response that causes the immune system to attack the cells in the digestive tract when it tries to combat a virus or bacterium. Other risk factors include heredity, diet, and stress. (Related: Suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease? A healthy diet may help ease your pain.)

The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease differ, depending on the severity and location of the inflammation. The most common signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease include diarrhea, fever and fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping, blood in the stool, loss of appetite, and sudden weight loss.

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