Study says heart attack survivors may need to pay more attention to waist size

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If you’ve had a heart attack, new research indicates you may want to pay attention to the size of your waist when it comes to preventing another one.

Findings published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology Monday showed a link between belly fat and the risk of a heart attack or stroke. And for people who have had heart attacks before, the risk increased, CNN reported.

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"Abdominal obesity not only increases your risk for a first heart attack or stroke, but also the risk for recurrent events after the first misfortune," Dr. Hanieh Mohammadi of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said in a news release. "Maintaining a healthy waist circumference is important for preventing future heart attacks and strokes regardless of how many drugs you may be taking or how healthy your blood tests are."

The study followed 22,000 Swedish patients over the course of almost four years. The patients were tracked after their first heart attack. In reviewing the connection between waist size and clogged arteries, similar percentages of men and women had heart attacks. The study looked into arteries being caused by things like strokes and heart attacks — including fatal and on-fatal ones.

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Among men, 7.3% had a heart attack or stroke compared to 7.9% of women. Most patients had abdominal obesity; 78% of men had it compared to 90% of women. In men, that’s defined as having a waist circumference of 37.6 inches or above and 32 inches or above for women.

Men, who comprised almost three-fourths of the study’s patients, had a stronger association between heart attack and stroke and waist size. Men had a linear association compared to women who had a more "U-shaped" relationship, according to Mohammadi. That means the mid-range waist measurement was the least risky.

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Researchers also found that regardless of smoking, diabetes, body mass index and other risk factors, belly fat had links to heart attacks and stroke. They stressed that the size of a person’s waist mattered more than weight when determining the risk of such events and advised them to measure patient’s waist size.

The findings follow a study published last year that showed women who have a 35-inch waist are more at risk for heart disease and cancer.