Cholesterol deposits on eyelids-xanthelasmata-are a warning for heart attack, artery disease and early death, reveals a Danish study.
As half of the people with the deposits have normal blood cholesterol levels, scientists said the lesions might be an important independent marker of underlying artery disease.
Copenhagen researchers established the presence or absence of xanthelasmata at baseline in 12,939 people.
Of these, 1,903 developed heart attacks, 3,761 developed ischemic heart disease and 8,663 died during up to 33 years of follow-up.
Cumulative incidence of ischemic heart disease and heart attack as a function of age increased in those with xanthelasmata, and the proportion surviving decreased.
Xanthelasmata predicted 51 percent increased risk of heart attack and 40 percent increased risk of ischemic heart disease. Those with xanthelasmata also had a 17 percent increased risk of death after adjustments for well-known cardiovascular risk factors including blood cholesterol levels.
The results have suggested that other factors besides cholesterol levels - including capillary leakage, characteristics of macrophages or intercellular matrix components - "may predispose certain individuals to both xanthelasmata and to atherosclerotic disease and early death," said researchers.
"In societies where other cardiovascular disease risk factors can't be readily measured, presence of xanthelasmata may be a useful predictor of underlying atherosclerotic disease," added researchers.