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Sep 05, 2012

New Ways to Predict Cardiovascular Risk

New markers of heart health may improve accuracy of cardiovascular risk prediction. 

Determining an individual’s cardiovascular risk is extremely important when it comes to preventing heart disease. By taking into account certain factors like age, gender, cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking status, we can tell if someone is at low, middle or high risk for heart disease. And a person’s cardiovascular risk level helps doctors decide if any action is necessary to improve heart health. For example, if a patient is at low risk for heart disease, they should continue to make healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthy and exercising and meet with their doctor annually for check-ups. But if a patient is at high risk for heart disease, they need to work closely with their doctor to address any risk factors that they have.

So how do doctors calculate risk for heart disease? Traditionally, experts have used the Framingham Risk Score (FRS) to estimate risk for heart disease. This tool is based on findings from The Framingham Heart Study - a famous study that helped identify common factors that contribute to heart disease. By plugging risk factors identified by this study, like cholesterol and blood pressure, into a certain formula, doctors can then estimate the likelihood of that person developing heart disease in the near future. But as we continue to learn more about heart disease, we have found new markers that might help us estimate cardiovascular risk more accurately.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that accounting for additional health markers, like high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and family history, may help better estimate risk for heart disease. And a certain test, called a coronary calcium scan, which provides pictures of the heart’s arteries may be most helpful in predicting cardiovascular risk in patients at intermediate risk for heart disease.

However, this doesn’t mean that all patients need these tests to get a better picture of their cardiovascular health. Some patients, like those with heart disease or diabetes, don’t have much use for a risk calculator because they already need more aggressive management of any risk factors they may have. And those with low risk probably don’t have much use for these extra tests since they’re relatively healthy, anyway. But for those with intermediate risk, taking these added factors into account might be helpful by assessing cardiovascular risk more accurately. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the Framingham Risk Score?

  • The Framingham Risk Score is a tool used to provide an individual’s 10-year risk for heart disease. It takes into account a number of factors like age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking status and calculates a risk score based on these factors. For example, someone with very few or no risk factors for heart disease would be considered “low risk” while someone with numerous risk factors would be considered “high risk”.
  • Why is the prediction of cardiovascular risk important?

  • Cardiovascular risk prediction is important because it helps determine whether lifestyle modification and/or medical treatment is needed to help reduce risk for heart disease in a patient. If a person is at intermediate or high risk for heart disease, it’s important to take steps to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve heart health.