Egyptian mummy 'first to have diseased heart'

An Egyptian princess who lived 3,500 years ago is thought to be the first known person to have developed heart disease, say researchers.

Doctors believe the princess would have needed a heart bypass if she were living now.

Scans showed she had extensive blockages in arteries leading to her heart, brain, stomach and legs.

Image caption Computerised tomography (CT) scanning showed evidence of heart disease

The researchers say her case shows heart disease pre-dates a modern lifestyle.

Cardiac researchers from the US teamed up with colleagues at Al Azhar University in Cairo to analyse the remains of 52 mummies, including those of the princess.

They performed full-body scans on mummies at the National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo.

They had found evidence of hardening of the arteries in almost half the mummies scanned, researchers told a medical conference in Amsterdam.

Noble roots

Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon was from an illustrious Egyptian family. She lived in what is now Luxor from the year 1580 BC, and died in her 40s.

Dr Gregory Thomas, from the University of California, said: "There was no gas or electricity at that time, so presumably she had an active lifestyle.

"Her diet was significantly healthier than ours. She would have eaten fruit and vegetables - and fish were plentiful in the Nile at that time.

"The food would have been organic - and there were no trans-fats or tobacco available then.

"Yet, she had these blockages. This suggests to us that there's a missing risk factor for heart disease - something that causes it that we don't yet know enough about."

The researchers say the findings should not detract from the importance of messages about healthy diet and lifestyle.

Inside view

Dr Thomas said: "Some people have suggested that a burger chain is sponsoring our expeditions to Egypt. That's not true at all.

Image caption Scans showed calcified arteries (atherosclerosis)

"We're simply saying that our Egyptian princess from 3,500 years ago shows that heart disease can be a part of being human.

"While we should do everything we can that is known to prevent problems, there's no point in blaming yourself if you need a heart operation."

The team's work is now on hold because of the unrest in Egypt, but they hope to be able to stage further research expeditions if the new government gives them permission.

Dr Thomas said: "I was pinching myself at how lucky I was - being able to pick out a sarcophagus, and then have the Egyptian team take out a mummy, perhaps for the first time in 3,000 years, and take it to the scanner for us so we could look at their insides."

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