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Myocardial infarction (MI), commonly referred to as heart attack, occurs when one of the heart’s coronary arteries is blocked suddenly or has poor blood flow. One of the principal risk factors for MI in men and women is abdominal obesity. The relative risk of recurrent cardiovascular disease-related death after having MI is approximately 30 percent higher than the risk among people without MI. Findings from a recent study suggest that abdominal obesity increases the risk of a fatal recurrent MI or stroke.

According to the World Health Organization, the waist circumference range for increased cardiovascular risk is 94 to 102 centimeters for men and 80 to 88 centimeters for women. Values above this range place people at greatly increased risk. Waist circumference measurement is particularly relevant in people whose body mass index is normal or overweight.

The study was based on data gathered from more than 22,000 people living in Sweden who were between the ages of 35 and 77 years old and had experienced their first MI. The participants were followed for approximately four years for recurrent cardiovascular events, including nonfatal MI, coronary heart disease death, or stroke.

The findings indicated that during the follow-up period, 7.3 percent of the men and 7.9 percent of the women had a recurrent cardiovascular event. The majority of the study participants had a waist circumference that was higher than the WHO’s recommended thresholds. Having a larger waist circumference was associated with roughly 20 percent greater risk of recurrent cardiovascular-related event, regardless of age, body mass index, or other risk factors, especially in men. Interestingly, participants who were overweight were less likely to experience a recurrent cardiovascular disease-related event compared to those who were normal weight or obese.

These findings demonstrate that waist circumference may be a useful tool in the clinical setting for identifying patients at increased risk for recurrent MI and suggest that strategies to reduce abdominal fat (such as lifestyle modification) may reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes.

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