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Mar 13, 2015

Keeping Heart Failure at Bay

Preventing obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes could delay development of heart failure by up to 13 years.

Avoiding three common cardiovascular factors could delay development of heart failure by up to 13 years, according to a study to be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

More than five million Americans are living with heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Heart failure can lead to serious complications, and risk increases with age, so prevention is important. Experts hope their recent findings will help motivate patients to take the steps needed for a longer, healthier life.

Using data from four large U.S. studies, researchers compared heart failure risk among 18,280 individuals over the past 40 years. Nearly 1,500 subjects developed heart failure during this period. After comparing cardiovascular risk factors, researchers found that people who had obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes by age 45 were, on average, diagnosed with heart failure 11 to 13 years earlier than people who had none of these risk factors by that age. This meant that among those developing heart failure, individuals without these three risk factors at age 45 weren’t diagnosed until their 80s, while those with obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes developed heart failure in their late 60s or early 70s.

Faraz Ahman, MD, a cardiology fellow at Northwestern University and the study’s lead author, hopes these findings will help patients understand the importance of avoiding key cardiovascular risk factors.

 “In the clinic, we often give patients metrics of risk that are relative and abstract,” he said. “It’s a much more powerful message, when you’re talking to patients in their 30s or 40s, to say that they will be able to live 11 to 13 years longer without heart failure if they can avoid developing these three risk factors now.”

While obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are extremely common in the United States, these risk factors can be easily prevented with a healthy lifestyle. Simple steps like eating healthy and staying active can go a long way in reducing risk for these conditions. Experts hope that the idea of adding up to 13 healthy years of life will help motivate patients to make these choices a priority.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

  • What are common heart failure symptoms?

  • Heart failure symptoms often present themselves slowly but progress and worsen over time. These symptoms include shortness of breath; swelling of feet, ankles or abdomen; fatigue; cough and weight gain.

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