People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) appear to have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, new research suggests.
IBD refers to the conditions Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. There is no known cause or cure and some 20,000 Irish people are affected.
The conditions have similar symptoms, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss. Left uncontrolled, symptoms may flare up, causing severe abdominal pain and frequent visits to the bathroom. If parts of the colon become too inflamed, patients may need surgery and a life-long colostomy bag.
US researchers carried out one of the largest studies to date on the potential link between IBD and the risk of heart disease. They analysed the medical records of over 17 million people and found that those with IBD had an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, irrespective of the presence of traditional risk factors, such as smoking and high blood pressure.
"Younger patients had about nine times the risk of a heart attack compared to their peers in the same age group (who didn't have IBD), and this risk continued to decline with age. Our findings suggest that IBD should be considered an independent risk factor for heart disease," commented the study's lead author, Dr Muhammad Panhwar, of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
The study found that compared to people who did not have IBD, heart attacks occurred around twice as often in those with the condition. When age, race, sex and traditional risk factors were taken into account, those with IBD had a 23% increased risk of suffering a heart attack.
While the risk of heart attack was similar among men and women with IBD who were over the age of 40, in those under the age of 40, the risk was higher among women.
IBD is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30, and younger patients and females tend to have more aggressive symptoms and frequent flare-ups.
"Our study adds considerably to a growing set of literature highlighting the importance of chronic inflammation in IBD as having a role in the development of heart disease. The results suggest clinicians should take seriously any symptoms suggestive of heart disease, such as chest pain, in patients with IBD, especially in younger patients," Dr Panhwar said.
Details of these findings are to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session in Florida later this month.