A COMMON back condition could be an early sign of a deadly heart condition, Columbia scientists have discovered.
It could mean that those with the condition could be monitored and given treatment earlier.
Transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM) is now thought to be a more common but underdiagnosed cause of fatal heart failure.
The disease is caused by proteins that can clump together and stiffen the heart, making it harder for blood to pump.
But they also collect in other tissues, including the spine, which doctors were able to use as clues.
Recent studies suggest that people who suffer with the back condition lumbar spinal stenosis go on to develop transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy five to 15 years later.
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Lumbar spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower part of the back.
People with the condition have trouble walking distances or find that they need to lean forward to relieve pressure on their lower back, Hopkins Medicine says.
Pain or numbness in your legs and feet, and in more severe cases, difficulty controlling the bowel and bladder, are also symptoms.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is affects an estimated one in ten older adults, according to US figures published in the journal JAMA.
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Researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons wondered if it would be possible to detect cases of ATTR-CM early in these patients.
Led by Mathew Maurer, professor of medicine, the team analysed spinal tissue from 47 patients undergoing spinal decompression surgery.
Transthyretin amyloid – the proteins that clump together in the heart – was found in 10 of the patients, according to MedicalXpress.
One of those 10 patients had already developed heart problems and began treatment, while the other nine patients are being closely monitored.
Prof Maurer said: "Based on these findings, we would suggest that all patients who undergo surgery for spinal stenosis should be screened for transthyretin amyloid.
"I'd certainly recommend screening if a patient has additional orthopaedic issues, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, joint deterioration, or bicep tendon injury, each of which can be caused by transthyretin amyloid.
“Such patients are especially likely to have transthyretin amyloid and be at risk for heart failure in the future."
The research was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Most people who get spinal stenosis are over the age of 50, because the most common cause is osteoarthritis.
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Osteoarthritis, the gradual wear and tear of bones, is a side effect of getting older.
But you can lower your odds of severe osteoarthritis – and lumbar spinal stenosis – by regularly exercising, keeping a healthy weight, and keeping a good posture, including when sleeping.
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