Hyperhomocysteinaemia is associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic vascular disease and thromboembolism, in both men and women. A variety of conditions can lead to elevated homocysteine levels, but the relation between high levels and vascular disease is present regardless of the underlying cause. Pooled data from a large number of studies demonstrate that mild hyperhomocysteinaemia after a standard methionine load is present in 21% of young patients with coronary artery disease, in 24% of patients with cerebrovascular disease, and in 32% of patients with peripheral vascular disease. From such data an odds ratio of 13.0 (95% confidence interval 5.9 to 28.1), as an estimate of the relative risk of vascular disease at a young age, can be calculated in subjects with an abnormal response to methionine loading. Furthermore, mild hyperhomo-cysteinaemia can lead to a two- or three-fold increase in the risk of recurrent venous thrombosis. Elevated homocysteine levels can be reduced to normal in virtually all cases by simple and safe treatment with vitamin B6, folic acid, and betaine, each of which is involved in methionine metabolism. A clinically beneficial effect of such an intervention, currently under investigation, would make large-scale screening for this risk factor mandatory.
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