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Nov 28, 2012

Visible Signs of Aging Increase Cardiovascular Risk

Wrinkles, baldness, and dry skin patches may impact more than our looks.

Let’s face it – we all dread the inevitable signs of aging, like grey hair, baldness and wrinkles. They’re a dead giveaway of our age and there’s not too much we can do to prevent them. But these signs of aging may impact more than just our looks, according to a recent study.

This study, recently presented at the annual American Heart Association conference, followed nearly 11,000 Danish individuals for 35 years to see whether visible signs of aging were associated with increased cardiovascular risk. At the beginning of the study, researchers noted whether study participants had four major signs of aging – baldness in the front of the head, baldness on the crown of the head, creases in the earlobes, and patches of yellow skin around the eylids, called xanthelasmata. They then followed them to see how many developed heart disease or had a heart attack in subsequent years. After 35 years of follow-up, researchers found that people with visible signs of aging had significantly higher risk for hear attack and heart disease, and the more signs of aging a person had, the greater their cardiovascular risk. In fact, subjects with three or four aging signs had nearly 40% increased risk of heart disease and nearly 60% increased risk for heart attack.

So what can we take away from this study? Visible signs of aging may be a marker of poor cardiovascular health, and may be overlooked in clinical settings. Experts suggest that healthcare providers should consider signs of aging during regular check-ups and take this into account when treating patients. For example, someone with baldness, creases in the earlobes and yellow patches around the eyelids may want to take extra precaution to control risk factors for heart disease, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, to help reduce overall cardiovascular risk. However, additional research is needed to fully understand exactly what role visible appearance plays when it comes to cardiovascular health. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is xanthelasmata?

  • Xanthelasmata are yellow patches found around the eyelids, caused by deposits of cholesterol below the skin. They are not painful or harmful, but may be associated with increased cardiovascular risk.
  • Can signs of aging be reversed?

  • Although physical signs of aging like wrinkles and baldness are not usually reversible, it’s never too late to reduce cardiovascular risk. If visible signs of aging are an indication of poor heart health, it’s even more important that people with these aging signs take extra precautions to promote better heart health.