Heart Disease Risk Higher with Obesity Alone

Obese and overweight people were more likely to have heart attacks or heart disease even without metabolic syndrome

November 11, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Many people who are overweight or obese have metabolic syndrome, which increases their risk of developing heart problems. However, even without metabolic syndrome, extra weight may spell trouble for heart health.

A recent study looked at whether an overweight or obese person had to have metabolic syndrome to have a higher risk of heart attacks or heart disease.

Of the thousands of people observed, those with metabolic syndrome were certainly in more danger of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. However, overweight and obese people without metabolic syndrome also had an increased risk.

The researchers suggested that people who are overweight or obese should talk to their doctors about a plan to lose weight.

"Work with a doctor to find a healthy weight for you."

Mette Thomsen, MD, and Børge G. Nordestgaard, MD, DMSc, of Herlev Hospital, conducted this study to see if being overweight or obese were risk factors for heart attacks and ischemic heart disease, even if a person did not have metabolic syndrome.

Ischemic heart disease occurs when plaque builds up along arteries and reduces the amount of blood that can get to the heart. This type of heart disease frequently leads to heart attacks.

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of health conditions that increases the risk of having heart problems and diabetes.

People who are obese and have high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol may have metabolic syndrome. However, it is possible to be obese and not exhibit the other symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

To see if obese and overweight people were at risk for heart attacks and heart disease even if they didn't have metabolic syndrome, the researchers examined 71,527 people from a population study to see if they were normal weight, overweight or obese. They also noted whether the participants had metabolic syndrome.

The researchers followed up with the participants for 3.6 years and took note of any hospital admissions or deaths due to heart attack or ischemic heart disease.

The researchers found that 10 percent of people with a normal weight had metabolic syndrome, while 40 and 62 percent of overweight and obese people had the condition.

During the follow-up period, 634 participants had had a heart attack and 1,781 were diagnosed with ischemic heart disease.

People who were obese were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than people with normal weights.

Patients who did not have metabolic syndrome became more and more likely to have a heart attack as their weights increased.

The researchers claimed that the study showed a causal link between a higher body mass index, or BMI, and ischemic heart disease.

They emphasized that a person's BMI (a measure of height to weight) may be just as good of a sign of heart attack and ischemic heart disease risk as metabolic syndrome status. 

The authors of the study suggested that weight loss should be encouraged for all patients who are overweight or obese in order to reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart disease.

The article was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on November 11.

The research was supported by Herlev Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital, the Copenhagen County Foundation and the University of Copenhagen. The researchers declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 12, 2013
Last Updated:
November 11, 2013