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Can bacterial infection increase heart disease risk?

Bacterial infections, along with diabetes, can notably increase the risk of heart disease, claims a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in India — hypertension is one of its main risk factors

“We were able to study the association between antibiotic purchases, endotoxemia and incident coronary heart disease in one of the largest cohorts of individuals with type 1 diabetes,” said the study’s authors of the Folkhalsan Research Centre (FRC) in Finland. “As diabetic nephropathy has a substantial impact on both the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as well as the risk of infections, we further studied this association at different stages of diabetic nephropathy.” 

Such a study is of particular interest in India. Among all the factors and outcomes studied, India ranks as one of the most-affected countries globally. India was recently found to be the second highest global consumer of antibiotics, elevating its risk of antibiotic resistance. India also lists heart disease as its most common cause of death as of 2016, the condition accounting for 28.1 percent of all deaths in the country that year. The overall prevalence of diabetes in the country is 11.8 percent, denoting all three factors considered by the study as major health concerns in India.

The study’s findings showed that, among 3,781 individuals with type 1 diabetes, 370 developed coronary heart disease over an average follow-up of 13.7 years. The study also used antibiotic purchases — in this case as a marker indicative of bacterial infection — as a means of linking bacterial infections to heart disease. It was found that bacterial infections were also a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease, with a 21 per cent increased risk for each annual antibiotic purchase.

“Interestingly, in our study this association to incident coronary heart disease was seen specifically with antibiotic purchases, making the potential pathophysiologic mechanisms behind this finding intriguing and warranting further studies,” said author Johan Rasmus Simonsen from FRC.

Such a finding is not entirely unexpected, as those with comorbidities covering both infectious conditions and diabetes are far more likely to be in overall worse health. As a result, the prevalence of heart disease would be expected to be higher as diabetes is already a well documented risk factor. 

While the findings are not unexpected, they do underline that in the context of India, all three of the overlapping conditions are not only prevalent but already responsible for considerable morbidity and loss of life. A holistic approach to healthcare, assessing risk factors and comorbidities, may well be vital in curbing India’s heart disease epidemic.


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