TOULOUSE, France — Wrinkles may be more than just an unwanted result of old age. New research finds they may actually be a sign of poor heart health.

Researchers from the Toulouse University Hospital say people with deep forehead wrinkles could be nearly 10 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those with minimal wrinkling of the brow. The finding could be a key, low-cost indicator for doctors to pay closer attention to when assessing or meeting with older patients.

“You can’t see or feel risk factors like high cholesterol or hypertension,” says study author Yolande Esquirol, associate professor of occupational health at the hospital, in a release by the European Society of Cardiology. “We explored forehead wrinkles as a marker because it’s so simple and visual. Just looking at a person’s face could sound an alarm, then we could give advice to lower risk.”

While the risk for cardiovascular disease naturally rises as we get older, some patients are of course at greater risk than others. The authors believe their findings could help identify who is particularly at a higher risk early on to allow for necessary lifestyle and medical changes that could help prolong a person’s life.

For the study, researchers monitored 3,200 healthy adults who were either 32, 42, 52, or 62 years old at the start of the study. Participants were examined for 20 years and assigned “scores” for their level of wrinkles, which was measured by the number depth of the lines across their brows. Individuals were given a zero for no wrinkles, while those who had numerous deep wrinkles were assigned a score of “three.”

At the end of the study period, 233 participants had passed away. The researchers calculated that 15.2 percent of the deceased individuals received scores of “two” or “three” during the study, compared to just 6.6 percent of those gives a “one” and only 2.1 percent of those with a “zero.” After adjustments were considered for such factors as age, gender, education, heart rate and other health measurements, the authors found that participants with wrinkles scores of two or three were nearly 10 times at greater risk of death from heart disease.

“Forehead wrinkles may be a marker of atherosclerosis,” says Esquirol. “This is the first time a link has been established between cardiovascular risk and forehead wrinkles so the findings do need to be confirmed in future studies.”

Still, the researchers say the findings could still be used at least as a caution flag for doctors to consider when treating patients. As for why wrinkles are associated with heart health, the authors believe atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries from plaque buildup, plays a role. Blood vessels in the forehead are tiny and potentially more sensitive to arterial plaque growth, which could explain the connection.

The study was presented on August 26, 2018 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress.

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