Narrowing arteries can cause significant health problems, and a new study reveals that even early evidence of the condition could signal heart problems later in life.

Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) researchers studied patients with non-obstructive coronary artery disease (CAD). This condition is diagnosed in subjects who exhibit plaque in their arteries, but not enough to block the flow of blood or result in chest pain. Investigators found that non-obstructive coronary artery disease can significantly increase the risk of heart attacks, and even death, among patients suffering from the condition.

Medical records of almost 38,000 subjects were examined in the study, over half  - 55.4 percent - of whom were diagnosed with obstructive forms of CAD. Nearly one quarter of the patients were found to exhibit non-obstructive coronary artery disease.

Subjects who were diagnosed with non-obstructive coronary artery disease were found to be between two and 4.5 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than patients without the condition.

"This is a key study revealing that no level of established coronary arterial disease is considered OK or safe. [When] found in any form, [it] needs to be aggressively treated with well-tolerated and useful medical and procedural treatments," David Friedman from Franklin Hospital in New York told the press.

Most heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions (MI) are known to occur within partially-block blood vessels, so the results of the study were expected by many researchers.

Roughly 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year, accounting for around one in every four deaths. These numbers make it the nation's leading cause of death in both men and women. Roughly 720,000 people in the United States experience heart attacks each year. Of these, 515,000 are first-time events for the sufferers, and 205,000 people each year experience repeat instances of MI. Coronary heart disease costs the nation nearly $109 billion annually from lost productivity, medical services and prescription drugs. Just 18 percent of Native Americans and Alaskan natives die from heart disease in the United States, while 25.1 percent of Caucasians perish from the disease.

Exercise and healthy eating are often recommended by health professionals to reduce the incidence of non-obstructive coronary artery disease. The condition can lead to heart attacks, even if blood vessels are not completely blocked by plaque. It is usually diagnosed through the use of coronary angiography, a form of X-ray that views arteries leading to the heart, utilizing a dye.

Study of non-obstructive coronary artery disease and how the condition affects future health risks, was profiled in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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