Our study shows there's a strong linear relationship between BMI and plaque volume and composition. So even being a little overweight is associated with more plaque, while being obese is associated with a lot of plaque. —J. Brent Muhlestein, co-director of cardiovascular research at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute
DALLAS— Body mass index may predict risk of heart disease for patients with type-2 diabetes, researchers say.
In other words, the higher the BMI, the greater one's risk for heart disease.
Results were presented Sunday at the 2013 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Dallas.
"Our study shows there's a strong linear relationship between BMI and plaque volume and composition," J. Brent Muhlestein, co-director of cardiovascular research at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, who led the BMI study, said in a statement. "So even being a little overweight is associated with more plaque, while being obese is associated with a lot of plaque."
A team of researchers from Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute worked with researchers from Johns Hopkins University and National Institutes of Health on the study.
They discovered the correlation during research for the larger study that investigated whether CT scans can accurately detect heart disease in diabetic patients who are not showing symptoms of the disease.
The findings are noteworthy because heart disease causes roughly 75 percent of deaths in people who have diabetes, researchers say. While those who exhibit risk factors like smoking or elevated glucose, cholesterol or blood pressure can be treated, many do not show symptoms.
This means for some, the first sign that they have a disease is a heart attack or stroke.
"Our goal at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute is to learn how to predict who will get heart disease so we can provide the best care possible and improve long-term outcomes — rather than waiting until a person has a heart attack or even dies," Muhlestein said.
In diabetes, the body's glucose levels rise higher than normal. More than 25 million people suffer from some form of diabetes in the United States, according to the American Diabetes Association, with Type-2 diabetes the most common.
Patients who do not have risk factors will likely go undetected because they will not qualify for the more expensive and invasive screening processes that detect the level of buildup in arteries.
"It may be that in diabetic patients without any symptoms of heart disease, their BMI could be used to determine if they need a CT scan to screen for plaque buildup," Muhlestein said. "We could then develop a treatment plan for at-risk patients."
The results from this study might change how diabetic patients are treated, researchers said, because two of the three available treatment options cause weight gain. Although weight gain may not predict heart disease, the study found that it may increase plaque buildup in the heart.
"Based on the findings of this study, choosing insulin sensitizing therapy as the primary management strategy in diabetic patients may be beneficial by reducing the tendency towards elevated BMIs," Muhlestein said.