Early Inflammation May Portend Early Death

Adolescents who show signs of body-wide inflammation may be at risk of early death decades later, researchers report.

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics used blood samples from 106,000 healthy Swedish men, 16 to 20 years old, examined for compulsory military service. Their checkups included a test known as a “sed rate,” which is a general indicator of inflammation.

The test measures the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or how fast red blood cells fall in a test tube. Inflammation causes red blood cells to clump and fall faster; the faster they fall, the greater the inflammation. Inflammation has been tied to various serious medical problems, including cancer and heart disease.

Over an average of 35 years of follow-up, there were 4,835 deaths. Compared with men with a sed rate of less than 10 millimeters per hour, those with a reading higher than 15 had a 36 percent increased probability of premature death from any cause, a 78 percent increased risk of death from cancer, a 54 percent increased risk of cardiovascular mortality, and more than twice the risk of dying from a heart attack.

“It’s important to have a sense of caution” about the conclusions, said the lead author, Elizabeth D. Kantor, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “But we see these results that suggest that among these apparently healthy men in late adolescence, inflammation is marking something other than their manifestly healthy condition. That’s the part that’s really interesting.”

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