Greater risk of heart attack found for short men Study cites vulnerability of their smaller arteries

November 12, 1991|By Lawrence K. Altman | Lawrence K. Altman,New York Times News Service

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Heart attacks strike short men more often than tall men, a new study reported yesterday.

The apparent reason is that short men have smaller arteries that are more vulnerable to the damage from fatty deposits that lead to most heart attacks.

Men 5 feet 7 inches or shorter had a 60 percent greater risk of developing a first heart attack than men 6 feet 1 inch or taller, researchers from Boston said at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

There was a continual correlation of height and heart attack risk in the study, which was the largest to focus on the relationship of height to risk of heart attack.

The study from Harvard Medical School involved more than 22,000 American doctors.

"The shorter the stature, the higher the risk of heart attack," said Dr. Patricia Hebert, who headed the Harvard team. "Over the five-year period of the study, for every added inch of height there was a 3 percent decrease in the risk of a heart attack."

More short men were overweight, had higher cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Yet, data analyses showed that shortness alone was a risk factor, independent of other risk factors such as frequency of exercise, cholesterol level, smoking and age.

Although short men can do nothing about their size, they should work harder to reduce their risk of a heart attack by exercising, lowering high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and stopping smoking, the researchers said. But they warned tall men and women against assuming that they are resistant to heart attacks.

Shortness holds about the same risk for a heart attack as obesity and a family history of heart attacks, but less than untreated high blood pressure, smoking cigarettes, high cholesterol and diabetes, the researchers said. Heart attacks destroy the heart muscle that pumps blood through the body, and they result from a combination of factors. One is damage to the coronary arteries from the deposits of fat, which is known as atherosclerosis. A second factor is the blood clots that tend to form more easily in arteries that have been narrowed by atherosclerosis.

Short men apparently are more prone to heart attacks because their coronary arteries are narrower than those of tall men and thus more vulnerable to damage from atherosclerosis, the researchers said.

Lung function is another possible explanation for the correlation of height and heart attacks. Earlier studies have documented that shorter people have less lung volume. Since the lungs supply oxygen to the blood, which nourishes the heart, compromised lung function could impair the heart, the researchers said.

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