Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
For Journalists
Communications Specialist
Telephone: 412-647-6190
​​​
Manager
Telephone: 412-738-3511 or 412-586-9778

Want to Make an Appointment or Need Patient Information?

Contact UPMC at
1-800-533-UPMC (8762).

Go to Find a Doctor to search for a UPMC doctor.​



Risk of a Fatty Heart Linked to Race, Type of Weight Gain in Middle-Aged Women

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 2, 2017 – A woman’s race and where on her body she packs on pounds at midlife could give her doctor valuable clues to her likelihood of having greater volumes of heart fat, a potential risk factor for heart disease, according to new research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
 
The findings, published online today in the journal Menopause, show that black women who put on fat around their midsection during midlife are more likely to accumulate fat around their hearts, whereas white women’s risk of fatty hearts is higher when they add weight all over. The results echo the findings of a Pitt Public Health study three years ago in men.
 
“Excess fat around the heart, in both men and women, is an evolving risk factor for heart disease. But how can clinicians see it at a regular physical? They can’t without a special heart scan,” said senior author Samar El Khoudary, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “This study, coupled with our previous study in men, gives doctors another tool to evaluate their patients and get a better sense of their heart disease risk. It also may lead to suggestions for lifestyle modifications to help patients lessen that risk.”
 
El Khoudary and her team evaluated clinical data, such as CT scans and blood pressure, on 524 women from Pittsburgh and Chicago enrolled in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). The women were in varying stages of menopause, averaged 51 years old and were not on hormone replacement therapy.
 
After accounting for the potential health effects of lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and financial strain, the researchers determined that, not surprisingly, the more fat a women carries overall, the higher her risk for a fatty heart. 
 
However, white women with higher body mass indexes, or BMI, which is a measure of overall body fat, had significantly more heart fat, as measured by a CT scan, than black women with the same BMI.
 
For black women, the levels of heart fat were greater if they carried more fat in their midsection, as measured by a cross-sectional CT scan, compared with white women with the same volume of fat in their midsection.
 
El Khoudary’s team found that the heart fat black women with larger waistlines accumulate is closer to their hearts than the fat the white women with higher BMI’s accumulate. Fat close to the heart secretes inflammatory markers directly to the heart tissue and produces a greater detrimental effect as it expands.
 
“We’ve now come to very similar conclusions that show excess abdominal fat is worse for both black men and women, and a higher BMI is worse for white men and women when it comes to their odds of having more fat around their hearts,” said El Khoudary, who noted that the current analysis could not assess changes over time. “There is something going on here that warrants further investigation to determine why it is happening and what tailored interventions doctors may prescribe to help their patients lower their risk.”
 
Carrie Hanley, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Pitt Public Health, was lead author on this research. Additional authors are Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D., Maria M. Brooks, Ph.D., Akira Sekikawa, M.D., Ph.D., and Suresh Mulukutla, M.D., all of Pitt; Imke Janssen, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center; and Matthew J. Budoff, M.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.
 
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants U01NR004061, U01AG012505, U01AG012535, U01AG012531, U01AG012539, U01AG012546, U01AG012553, U01AG012554, U01AG012495, HL065581 and HL065591; and American Heart Association grant 12CRP11900031.

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit www.healthwise.org

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA | UPMC.com