Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are a ballooning of a weak area of the blood vessel that can rupture and quickly lead to death. The only way to treat AAA is through surgery. The sudden and hidden nature of AAA worries scientists who’ve searched for ways to identify people who may be at risk for developing them. New research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) now suggests that body inflammation in midlife may be a predictor of who might develop AAA.
The study, led by PhD student Romil Parikh under the mentorship of Associate Professor Weihong Tang, was published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
The researchers evaluated 11,217 adults participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. ARIC is a national, long-term (1985-2021) study co-led by SPH aimed at investigating the causes of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and other forms of cardiovascular disease in the United States. Parikh used data gathered through ARIC to see if white blood cells levels measured in the midlife of participants were related to their risk developing AAAs over 22.5 years of follow-up. White blood cells fight infection in the body, but can also lead to the chronic inflammation of body tissues — a condition linked to the onset of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers identified 377 people who developed AAAs over the course of the ARIC study. Delving deeper, they found that elevated white blood cell levels in midlife, which indicate body inflammation, were common and associated with higher risk of developing a AAA — even after ruling out traditional risk factors for AAA, such as smoking.
“This suggests the need to identify nontraditional risk factors and treatment strategies to reduce the risk of AAA produced by midlife inflammation,” says Parikh. “It also means that even if someone avoids developing other illnesses, such as heart disease, midlife body inflammation could still lead to AAA.”
Parikh says the good news is that body inflammation is very treatable through lifestyle choices, such as getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and good nutrition. He also points out that there are effective drugs for treating body inflammation that researchers could study to see if they also reduce the risk of developing AAA.