Women who carry a common virus are up to four times more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke, warns a new study.
Researchers found that women who have an infection with a high-risk strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV) are more at risk of blocked arteries and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
The European Society of Cardiology study is the first to show a link between high-risk HPV infection and deaths from cardiovascular disease.
HPV is a very common infection and high-risk strains are known to cause cervical cancer.
To get their results the team studied 163,250 young or middle-aged Korean women who had no cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.
The women were given a variety of health screening tests, including cervical screening for 13 high-risk strains of HPV.
The women returned for health checks every year or two for an average of eight and half years.
Researchers were then able to combine data on the women’s HPV test results with national data on deaths from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke.
As a group of relatively young, healthy women, their risk of dying of cardiovascular disease was generally low, however, this risk was greatly increased by high-risk HPV.
Results, published in the European Heart Journal, showed that women with high-risk HPV had a 3.91 times greater risk of blocked arteries, a 3.74 times greater risk of dying from heart disease and a 5.86 times greater risk of dying from a stroke, compared to women who did not have a high-risk HPV infection.
Professor Seungho Ryu from the Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, Seoul, Korea, said: “Despite remarkable advances in controlling well-known risk factors for heart disease – such as smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes – heart disease continues to be a major cause of death.
“Interestingly, these conventional risk factors don’t explain all heart disease cases; about 20 percent occur in people who don’t have these issues.
“This highlights the need to investigate other changeable risk factors. Our research focuses on examining the impact of HPV, particularly in relation to cardiovascular mortality, as a potential risk factor for heart disease.”
Researchers also found that the risk was higher still in women who had a high-risk HPV infection and obesity.
Professor Hae Suk Cheong added: “We know that inflammation plays a pivotal role in the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and viral infections are potential triggers of inflammation.
“HPV is known for its link to cervical cancer, but research is starting to show that this virus can also be found in the bloodstream. It could be that the virus is creating inflammation in the blood vessels, contributing to blocked and damaged arteries and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
“This study highlights the importance of comprehensive care for patients with high-risk HPV. Clinicians should monitor cardiovascular health in patients with high-risk HPV, particularly those with obesity or other risk factors.
“It’s important for people with high-risk HPV to be aware of the potential for both heart disease and cervical cancer risks. They should engage in regular health screenings and adopt a healthy lifestyle to mitigate their risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The team note that more research is required into the topic, and they are hoping to discover whether vaccinations help prevent these deaths.
Professor Ryu concluded: “If these findings are confirmed, they could have substantial implications for public health strategies.
“Increasing HPV vaccination rates may be an important strategy in reducing long-term cardiovascular risks.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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