What Happens to a Woman’s Heart at Age 51

New study on women at mid-life (ave. age, 51)

(AMANDA MACMILLAN, HEALTH. COM) You already know that fat around your midsection—aka visceral fat—is more dangerous than fat stored elsewhere on the body, because it surrounds your organs and releases compounds that contribute to inflammation. But that same type of visceral fat can also accumulate in a hidden location that may be just as harmful, if not more so: around the heart.

PHOTO: Rochelle Hartman, CC

People who have excess fat surrounding this vital organ—a scenario sometimes referred to as fatty heart—are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac events. Now, researchers are shedding some light on who is most likely to have this dangerous but invisible condition.

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In a new study in the journal Menopause, University of Pittsburgh researchers analyzed data from physical exams and chest scans of 524 women in varying stages of menopause.

The research focused on women in mid-life (average age 51), because previous studies have suggested that women tend to accumulate more cardiovascular fat later in life. The link between fatty heart and cardiovascular disease risk also seems to be stronger after menopause.

Fatty heart cannot be detected by observation or a standard physical exam; currently, the best way to diagnose it is with a CT scan, which is expensive and exposes patients to small amounts of radiation. The researchers wanted to know if easy-to-identify characteristics—like race and body composition—could also indicate whether women were at high risk of fatty heart, and related heart disease.

The researchers adjusted their results to account for the potential effects of smoking, alcohol consumption, menopausal status, and socioeconomic factors. And as expected, they found that the more fat the women carried overall, the more fat they had around their hearts.  READ THE FULL STORY AT HEALTH.COM