Study: Women face increased heart disease risk if they have thin bones

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A strong link has been found between thin, brittle bones and women’s risk of heart disease, new research shows.

In particular, thinning of the lower spine, top of the thigh bone and hip are indicative of an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

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The findings come from research published in the specialist journal Heart in April.

Being over 50 and menopausal are two of the uncontrollable risk factors for osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle. There’s also a greater risk of bones breaking.

Prior research indicates there is an association between osteoporosis and atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Women have a higher risk of cardiovascular death than men, a press release from the British Medical Journal notes. As such, researchers behind the new study say factors that better recognize women at higher risk of a heart attack or stroke are required.

The researchers believe a DXA scan, which is used to screen millions of women for osteoporosis, might provide an ideal chance to pinpoint any possible links between thinning bones and atherosclerosis. It could also distinguish women with the greatest heart disease risk, without more exposure to radiation or higher costs.

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Researchers tested the hypothesis by analyzing the medical records of 50–80-year-old women who had had a DXA scan at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital between 2005 and 2014.

The final analysis included 12,681 women. Using national registry data, their health was monitored for an average of 9 years. Around 4% of women had a heart attack or stroke in that period and 2% died.

Thinning or weakened bones with a low bone mineral density score at the femoral neck, hip, and lumbar spine were independently linked to an increased risk —16% to 38% — of heart attack or stroke. This was after taking possibly influential factors into account. They include age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and a past fracture.

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An official osteoporosis diagnosis was also independently correlated with a 79% greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

A 2008 study about the link between osteoporosis and atherosclerosis found that hardening of the arteries and mineralization of bones share several common features. Still, exactly how they are connected isn’t clear.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded, “Considering that [DXA scanning] is widely used to screen for osteopenia and osteoporosis in asymptomatic women, the significant association between [bone mineral density] and higher risk of [cardiovascular disease] provides an opportunity for large-scale risk assessment in women without additional cost and radiation exposure.”