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Nov 28, 2012

Optimal Risk Profile Delays Heart Disease

Lifetime risk for heart disease is high, but can be minimized with cardiovascular risk reduction.

We know that heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. We also know that there are many risk factors that we can do to reduce our cardiovascular risk, like by staying active and eating healthy. But what’s less clear is exactly how risk factors affect our lifetime risk of developing heart disease. If we’re perfectly healthy and have no risk factors for heart disease, are we still at risk for heart disease? And if so, how high is that risk?

Fortunately, a recent study helps shine some light on this issue and although having an optimal risk profile doesn’t eliminate our cardiovascular risk, it does help delay the development of heart disease.

This study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed data from 5 different study groups that encompassed nearly 50,000 men and women. Subjects were followed from 1964 through 2008 and were all free of heart disease at the start of the study and. After many years of data collection, researchers found that men’s lifetime risk at age 45 was 60.3% and women’s lifetime risk at age 45 for developing heart disease was 55.6%. Also, lifetime risk for heart disease for men and women age 55 with no cardiovascular risk factors was still 40% and 30%, respectively. This means that at age 45, men and women have significant risk of developing heart disease in their lifetime (>55%). And even if they have no risk factors for heart disease by age 55, their risk for heart disease is still relatively high (>30%). However, individuals without any cardiovascular risk factors lived up to 14 years longer free of heart disease compared to individuals with 2 or more risk factors for heart disease.

The good news is that having no or few cardiovascular risk factors can reduce risk for heart disease and delay the development of heart disease by as much as 14 years. The bad news is that our lifetime risk of developing heart disease is relatively high. At age 45, it’s more likely than not that we’ll develop heart disease in our lifetime. But if we have no risk factors at age 55, our lifetime risk for heart disease is less. Therefore, we should continue to promote heart health and reduce or control any cardiovascular risk factors that we may have. Although we may not be able to prevent ever developing heart disease in our lifetime, we can significantly reduce our risk and delay its development.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why is lifetime risk for heart disease so high in men and women?

  • This study evaluated lifetime risk for heart disease, which included a number of conditions (coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure and other heart-related deaths). Since the analysis included numerous outcomes and a diverse population, risk of ever developing one of these conditions in a lifetime is relatively high. Also, we tend to accumulate cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure as we get older, which increases our risk for heart disease.
  • What major risk factors were included in this study?

  • Risk factors evaluated in this study included blood pressure, total cholesterol, diabetes and smoking status. If a subject had none of these risk factors, they were considered to have an optimal risk profile.

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