How far people go in school seems to be linked to their odds for heart disease, new research suggests.
A team led by Dr. Yasuhiko Kubota, of the University of Minnesota, tracked data from nearly 14,000 white and black Americans, followed from 1987 through 2013.
For men, the risk of cardiovascular disease -- coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke -- between ages 45 to 85 ranged from 59 percent for those with a grade school education, to 42 percent for those who'd earned a graduate degree.
Among women, nearly 51 percent of those with a grade school education had heart disease, compared to just 28 percent of those who'd completed graduate school, the findings showed.
The study couldn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship, but Kubota's team noted that the finding remained even after they adjusted for other factors, such as income, occupation or how well the person's parents had been educated.
The bottom line, the researchers said, is that raising education levels might help people's hearts, too.
"More than one in two individuals with less than high school education had a [heart disease] event during his or her lifetime," Kubota's group wrote.
Two cardiologists said the findings make sense.
"It's well known that a greater education tends to be associated with healthier behaviors, occupations with healthier working conditions and better access to health care," noted Dr. Rachel Bond. She helps direct Women's Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"In my own practice, I see a vast majority of people from different walks of life and with different socioeconomic levels," she said. "After this study, I will be more keen to ask about their educational attainment, as this group may require a greater need to have their heart disease indicators managed more aggressively."
Dr. David Friedman is chief of heart failure services at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y. He said the study might also have lessons for doctor-patient communications.
"Instead of talking at or over each individual patient who may not understand based on poor education, more cardiovascular 'teachable moments' can be achieved by talking with our patients at his or her own individual educational level," Friedman said.
"In so doing, we could then promote better and healthier lifestyle choices with patients," he added.
The study was published June 12 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.