Shortness Boosts Heart Disease, Death Risk

TUESDAY June 8, 2010 -- Short people have a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease, a new analysis shows.

Over the years, there has been conflicting evidence on whether shortness was associated with heart disease. However, this is the first systematic review that has been done on the topic, according to the Finnish researchers.

"Height may be considered as a possible independent factor to be used in calculating people's risk of heart disease," said lead author Dr. Tuula Paajanen, a researcher in the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Tampere.

Height is used to calculate body mass index (a measurement of body fat), which is widely used to quantify risk of coronary heart disease, she added.

"But height is only one factor that may contribute to heart disease risk, and whereas people have no control over their height or genetics, they can control their weight, lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking and exercise, and all of these together affect their heart disease risk," Paajanen said. "The more risk factors you have, the more effort you should concentrate to reduce the risk factors you can."

The report is published in the June 9 online issue of the European Heart Journal.

For the study, Paajanen's group analyzed data from 52 studies that included 3,012,747 people. Short people were considered those under 5-foot 3-inches and tall people were just over 5-foot-8.

Separated by gender, short men were under 5-foot-5, and short women were under 5-foot tall. Tall men were over 5-foot-9, and tall women were over 5-foot-5.

Compared with the tallest people, the shortest people were almost 1.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or to live with heart disease or suffer a heart attack, the researchers found.

Considering men and women separately, short men were 37 percent more likely to die from any cause compared with tall men, and short women were 55 percent more likely to die from any cause compared with taller women, Paajanen's team noted.

Paajanen added that it is unknown why there is an association between height and the risk for heart disease.

The researchers, however, speculated that shorter people have smaller coronary arteries that may get blocked earlier in life due to other risk factors such as poverty, poor nutrition and infections that result in poor early life growth. Smaller coronary arteries also might be subject to changes in blood flow.

However, recent genetic findings about body height suggest that inherited factors, rather than poor nutrition or low birth weight, may explain the association between shortness and an increased risk of heart disease, the researchers pointed out.

Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that "many but not all prior studies have suggested that individuals of short stature may be at higher risk for cardiovascular events and cardiovascular death, independent of other established cardiovascular risk factors."

But to reduce the overall risk of heart disease, people need to control the risk factors they can, Fonarow added.

"Individuals of short stature, along with those of all heights, should be aware of the cardiovascular risks they potentially face but focus on those risk factors that are modifiable including not smoking, participating in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, controlling blood pressure and achieving optimal lipid levels," he said.

Posted: June 2010


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