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Mar 06, 2018

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Makes Heart Attack Twice as Likely

Individuals with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are encouraged to discuss their heart disease risk and prevention strategies with their health care team.

Chronic inflammation from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are linked to increased risk for heart attack, based on analysis of a large U.S. database of more than 17.5 million U.S. adults.

The results of this study will be presented March 11 at the American College of Cardiology’s 67th Annual Scientific Session—an event that brings together heart specialists from around the world to share the latest in treatment and prevention. The key finding, according to authors, is that inflammatory bowel disease should be considered a risk factor for heart disease, similar to diabetes and high cholesterol.

The study explored the effects of inflammatory bowel disease, which currently affects an estimated three million Americans. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for two conditions, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both of which cause chronic inflammation in the digestive system.

While chronic inflammation is linked to increased heart risks, few studies have explored cardiovascular risk associated with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

To learn more, researchers analyzed medical records from the patients of 26 nationwide health care systems in the United States. The database included more than 17.5 million U.S. adults, roughly 1% of which had inflammatory bowel disease.

After comparing patients with and without IBD, researchers found that patients with IBD were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack as those without IBD. Younger patients (18–24 years old) with IBD had the highest risk, although risk decreased with age. Researchers also note that women under 40 with IBD were at higher risk for heart attack than men in the same age group.

These associations may be due to the fact that younger patients and females tend to have more aggressive disease with more frequent flares, according to authors. More severe symptoms suggest increased levels of inflammation, which could contribute to increased risk for heart attack.

"The results suggest clinicians should take seriously any symptoms suggestive of heart disease, such as chest pain, in patients with IBD, especially in younger patients," explains lead author of the study, Muhammad S. Panhwar, MD.

Researchers also note that overall, people with IBD were more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and to be smokers—all of which are well known risk factors for heart disease and should be addressed to help reduce risk for life-threatening heart events.

"Our study adds considerably to a growing set of literature highlighting the importance of chronic inflammation in IBD as having a role in the development of heart disease," Panhwar said.

Authors hope findings will empower people with IBD to talk to their doctor about their personal risk for heart disease. He encourages doctors to aggressively screen for heart disease in patients with IBD and focus on strategies to reduce cardiovascular risk.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is inflammation?

  • Inflammation is our body’s natural response to injury or infection. Although inflammation can help rid our body of infections or intruders, it may also be a marker of heart disease.
  • How can I reduce inflammation?

  • Although some drugs might help reduce inflammation, reducing risk factors that cause inflammation is important, like quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol.

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