Can predicting your heart attack risk be as simple as looking in a mirror?
A new study presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting Tuesday links visible signs of aging to an increased risk for heart disease and heart attack.
"Checking these visible aging signs should be a routine part of every doctor's physical examination," study author Dr. Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, a professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a press release.
For the study, which is considered preliminary since it's yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, Danish researchers reviewed nearly 11,000 people ages 40 and older who were enrolled in the Copenhagen Heart Study.
After a 35-year follow-up period, the researchers identified 3,401 participants who developed heart disease and 1,708 who had a heart attack.
A closer look at their appearances found those who had three-to-four signs of aging were 57 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack and 39 percent more likely to develop heart disease. Those aging signs were: receding hairlines, baldness, earlobe creases or wrinkles, or yellow fatty deposits around the eyelid, known as xanthelasma.
These aging signs predicted heart attack and heart disease independent of traditional risk factors for heart problems.
Risk was also elevated in people who possessed only one of these aging signs. Fatty deposits around the eyes were the strongest individual predictor of both heart attack and heart disease, the researchers found. People with diabetes and high cholesterol and high levels of fat in their blood are more likely to develop xanthelasmata, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The highest risk for heart problems was for those in their 70s and those who had multiple signs of aging.
"These subtle skin findings are a helpful part of every clinician's routine physical exam screening," Dr. David Friedman, chief of heart failure services at North Shore-LIJ's Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y. who was not involved in the research, told HealthDay. However, "One shouldn't jump to conclusions if slight fatty skin bumps around the eyes or certain patterns of baldness are seen," he said.