DALLAS -- New research supports scientists' growing suspicion that a variety of common lingering infections may raise the risk of hardening of the arteries.
The study, conducted by Austrian and Italian researchers, is the latest to suggest that diseases of the heart and circulatory system are more common in people with chronic bacterial infections, such as gum disease, sinus infections, bronchitis and urinary tract infections.
The research found that such chronic infections might triple the risk of atherosclerosis, the build-up of clogging deposits in the arteries.
One of the researchers, Dr. Stefan Kiechl of Austria's Innsbruck University Clinic, said the findings may offer clues to how to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Researchers suspect that the body-wide inflammation prompted by these infections somehow triggers the production of plaque in the arteries. However, Keichl said more studies are needed to show whether antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs can slow or stop this process.
The results could explain why some people develop cardiovascular disease even though they do not have the classic risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or lack of exercise, said Dr. Valentin Fuster of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Fuster said the findings suggest doctors should be more aggressive about reducing the risk of chronic infection by persuading patients to quit smoking, improve dental health and eat properly.
The study was published in the latest issue of the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.
The researchers looked for changes in the carotid arteries -- the main blood vessels supplying the brain -- of 826 men and women. The volunteers were all white.
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