Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a blanket term covering a variety of chronic gastrointestinal conditions including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, inflicts millions of people around the world with an increasing prevalence. A new study has found that people diagnosed with IBD have a significantly higher risk of heart attack, especially in younger patients.

The large analysis evaluated medical record data from 17.5 million patients, with over 200,000 having a diagnosed IBD. Overall the data found that patients with IBD suffered from twice as many heart attacks as non-IBD patients. Adjusting for a variety of factors including heart disease risk factors, age and race, the risk factor for IBD patients and heart attacks was still 23 percent higher than others.

"Younger patients had about nine times the risk of a heart attack compared to their peers in the same age group [who didn't have IBD], and this risk continued to decline with age," says Case Western Reserve University's Muhammad S. Panhwar, lead author on the study.

The research does not hypothesize what could be causing this unexpected correlation, but there is certainly a disproportionate amount of younger IBD patients suffering heart attacks. Panhwar suggests, "clinicians should take seriously any symptoms suggestive of heart disease, such as chest pain, in patients with IBD, especially in younger patients."

There are noted limitations in the study data, as there was no information on whether individuals had previous heart attacks or what type of heart attacks were included. So this study is certainly not definitive but it should make younger patients with IBD, and especially women, pay a little closer attention to their cardiovascular health as more research in undertaken to explain this unexpected phenomenon.

The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 67th Annual Scientific Session on Sunday, March 11.