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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 18:40 GMT
Heart disease warning on women
Weight might not necessarily be an accurate risk factor for women
Many women who show none of the recognised risk factors for heart disease could still be struck down, researchers have warned.

Doctors often rely on a number of established risk factors to identify people who are at risk of heart disease.

These include high blood pressure, smoking, raised cholesterol and a family history of heart disease.

By relying on the conventional risk factors alone, health care providers may be missing a large group of women who are at high risk for heart disease

Dr Joan Briller, University of Illinois at Chicago
However, a conference of the American Heart Association in New Orleans was told on Tuesday that while such measures were an accurate way of predicting which men may be at the risk, the same did not necessarily apply to women.

Researchers used a state-of-the-art imaging technique to screen the arteries of more than 4,000 post-menopausal women - half over and half under the age of 58.

The electron beam tomography scan is able to measure the location and extent of calcium in the walls of the coronary artery that supplies the heart with blood.

Calcium measure

Calcium is a component of the fatty plaque deposits that build up and clog blood vessels, leading to narrowed arteries and possibly heart attack.

The scientists, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that, as expected, women with the most risk factors also had high levels of calcium in their coronary arteries.

But the test also showed significant levels of calcium in the arteries of women with no risk factors.

More than a third of women over the age of 58, and a 10th of those under 58, had none of the recognised risk factors yet potentially harmful levels of calcium.

Dr Joan Briller, assistant professor at the university's College of Medicine, who led the research, said: "The study suggests that, by relying on the conventional risk factors alone, health care providers may be missing a large group of women who are at high risk for heart disease."

However, precisely why some women who appear to be at low risk of heart disease should have plaque calcium remains a mystery.

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