Study: Extra fat around the heart is associated with an increased risk for heart failure

A medical image shows an illustration of the heart.

After prospectively following more than 6,000 adults, ages 45-84, for about 15 years, researchers found that extra fat around the heart, called pericardial fat, was associated with an increased risk for heart failure. The association was stronger for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which results from the heart muscle becoming stiff. And while women were less likely to have higher levels of pericardial fat, the heart failure risks for those who did were more pronounced compared to men. Among the 6,785 adults, 383, 5.7%, were diagnosed with heart failure. For every 42 cm³ (1.4 fluid ounces) of extra pericardial fat, the risk of heart failure increased by 44% in women and 13% in men.

“Underlying conditions, like obesity and high blood pressure, are known to increase the risk for heart failure, but these findings help investigators further study these associations, while potentially advancing research that helps explain sex-based differences in cardiovascular disease outcomes,” says Cashell E. Jaquish, Ph.D., a genetic epidemiologist and project officer for Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis within the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at NHLBI.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and supported by NHLBI and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.