Gum Disease Linked to Heart Attack Risk

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Heart attack survivors who have advanced gum disease show significantly higher levels of C-reaciive protein (CRP) than patients without gum disease, according to research completed in November, 2000, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The research suggests that the presence of gum disease may increase the risk of a second heart attack in people with a history of heart disease.

"Not only did the heart attack patients with periodontal disease have higher levels of CRP than those without gum disease, but the CRP levels were directly related to the severity of the gum disease," said Dr. Efthymios N. Deliargyris, an inlerventional cardiologist and a member of the Center for Oral and Systemic Disease at the university. "The more severe the gum disease, the higher the CRP levels."

High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and cigarette smoking account for about two-thirds of the risk factors for heart attacks.

"Since about a third of people who suffer heart attacks don't have those risk factors," said Dr. Deliargyris, "there is a wide search going on for other conditions that may contribute to increased risk."

To learn how prevalent severe gum disease was in heart attack victims, the university team studied 38 patients who had experienced a heart attack and a comparable group of 38 without known heart disease. The team found that 85 percent of the heart attack victims had periodontal disease, compared with 29 percent of the control group.

"This gives us an insight into possible mechanisms underlying the association between gum disease and heart disease," Dr. Deliargyris said. "Now we believe that patients with a heart attack and periodontal disease have an exaggerated inflammatory response with higher CRP levels that might put them at risk for future heart attacks."

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