HOP Researcher Develops a Better Way to Gauge Heart Disease Risk in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome

For one in three Americans who develops the metabolic syndrome, or MetS, the excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides associated with the condition put them at a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. However, there has been considerable debate as to whether a MetS diagnosis predicts future heart disease any more than its individual risk factors.

Now, a team of researchers led by Matthew Gurka, Ph.D., at the University of Florida (UF) and Mark DeBoer, M.D., at the University of Virginia (UVA) has demonstrated that the ability of MetS to predict heart disease is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a research letter published in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Gurka, a biostatistician in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy in the College of Medicine at UF, and DeBoer, a pediatric endocrinologist in the Department of Pediatrics at UVA, described a new, more powerful method of calculating heart disease risk in patients with MetS. The new method takes into account the severity of each of the patient’s risk factors, along with sex and race.  The research team tested the method using patient data from two major studies—the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study and the Jackson Heart Study. They reported that nearly 25 percent of patients with the highest levels of MetS severity at their initial visit had coronary heart disease within 25 years. By comparison, only 6.5 percent of those with the lowest levels of MetS severity developed coronary heart disease within 25 years. The study was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to evaluate cardiovascular risk related to MetS among participants of the Jackson Heart Study using a new tool designed specifically to assess severity of MetS among African Americans. Gurka and DeBoer are co-principal investigators on the grant.

“This study on a large group of Americans followed over a long period of time provides evidence that MetS severity can be a useful clinical tool in predicting individuals who are at higher risk of developing heart disease,” Gurka said. The team has developed an online metabolic syndrome severity calculator (metscalc.org) that patients and their doctors can use to gauge their risk. The MetS calculator also may help improve health outcomes by providing patients and their caregivers a measure of their heart disease risk to track over time.