Heart shape may predict risk for heart disease

April 3, 2023

Investigators from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai have discovered that patients who have round hearts shaped like baseballs are more likely to develop future heart failure and atrial fibrillation than patients who have longer hearts shaped like the traditional Valentine heart.

Their findings were published in Med—Cell Press’ new peer-reviewed medical journal, and used deep learning and advanced imaging analysis to study the genetics of heart structure. Their results were telling. 

“We found that individuals with spherical hearts were 31% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation and 24% more likely to develop cardiomyopathy, a type of heart muscle disease,” said David Ouyang, MD, a cardiologist in the Smidt Heart Institute and a researcher in the Division of Artificial Intelligence in Medicine. 

The risk was identified after investigators analyzed cardiac MRI images from 38,897 healthy individuals from the UK Biobank. Using this same database, researchers then used computational models to identify genetic markers of the heart that are associated with these cardiac conditions. 

Atrial fibrillation, the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm disorder, greatly increases a person’s risk of having a stroke. The condition is rising in prevalence and projected to affect 12.1 million people in the U.S. by 2030. Cedars-Sinai cardiologists say the shape of one’s heart changes over years, typically becoming rounder over time and especially after a major cardiac event like a heart attack. 

“A change in the heart’s shape may be a first sign of disease,” said Christine M. Albert, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute and a study author. “Understanding how a heart changes when faced with illness—coupled with now having more reliable and intuitive imaging to support this knowledge—is a critical step in prevention for two life-altering diseases.” 

Ouyang says the findings provide more clarity on the potential use of cardiac imaging to diagnose more effectively—and prevent—many conditions. He also emphasized the need for additional studies. 

Cedars-Sinai release

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