Short people are at higher risk of heart disease than those who are taller, research out today suggests.

A review of 52 studies found shorter adults were around 50% more likely to have heart disease, have a heart attack or die from the disease than tall people.

On average, short people were below 160.5cm (5ft 3in) and tall people were over 173.9cm (5ft 8in).

The effect was true for both men and women, although a separate analysis of their heights in the study noted short men as below 165.4cm (5ft 5in) and tall men as over 177.5 (5ft 10in).

Short women were below 153cm (5ft) while tall women were over 166.4cm (5ft 6in).

The research, published in the European Heart Journal, involved more than three million people.

Dr Tuula Paajanen, from the University of Tampere in Finland, was lead author on the study.

She said there had been years of conflicting evidence on the link between height and heart disease, with more than 1,900 research papers on the issue.

"We hope that with this meta-analysis, the association is recognised to be true and in future more effort is targeted to finding out the possible pathophysiological, environmental and genetic mechanisms behind the association, with eyes and minds open to different hypotheses," she said.

When men and women were analysed separately by the researchers, short men were 37% more likely to die from any cause compared with tall men, and short women were 55% more likely to die from any cause compared with their taller counterparts.

But it was the link with heart disease that interested the researchers the most.

Dr Paajanen said: "The results of this systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that height may be considered as a possible independent factor to be used in calculating people's risk of heart disease.

"Height is used to calculate body mass index, which is a widely used to quantify risk of coronary heart disease."

However, she said it was unclear why being short is linked with an increased risk of heart disease.

The researchers suggest shorter people have smaller coronary arteries, which could possibly be more affected by changes or problems with blood flow.

She said other studies had suggested that inherited factors, rather than early-life poor nutrition or birth weight, may explain the link.

Dr Paajanen said: "We are carrying out further research to investigate these hypotheses."

In an accompanying editorial, Jaakko Tuomilehto, professor of public health at the University of Helsinki in Finland, said he believed the link may be down to the impact of environmental factors before and after birth.

For example, poorer backgrounds are linked to delayed early growth in children.

"Thus, it is most likely that short stature is the link to coronary heart disease, and that tallness is not a primary factor in preventing the disease, although it indicates healthy growth.

"Short stature seems to be a marker for risk."

But Dr Paajanen said people should not be worried by her findings.

"Height is only one factor that may contribute to heart disease risk, and whereas people have no control over their height, they can control their weight, lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking and exercise and all of these together affect their heart disease risk.

"In addition, because the average height of populations is constantly increasing, this may have beneficial effect of deaths and illness from cardiovascular disease."

Fotini Rozakeas, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said more time and money must be spent on "researching this peculiar association".

She added: "Whilst height is used to calculate body mass index - a marker that might help indicate a risk of heart disease - there are lots of other risk factors to take into account like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and obesity.

"It doesn't matter if you are tall, short or somewhere in between, it's still so important to do regular exercise, eat a healthy and balanced diet, stop smoking and control your weight to protect your heart health."