Knowing your heart age could help prevent CVD
Thanks to the identification of the common risk factors involved and national public health initiatives, heart disease deaths have almost halved over the past 40-50 years, especially in high income countries.
But “despite impressive progress, there is much still to be achieved in the prevention and management of cardiovascular care, with no room for complacency,” according to researchers.
CVD “is by far and away the leading cause of deaths worldwide,” and is “rampant” in low and middle income countries, while the surge in obesity and diabetes threatens to overturn the steady decline made in CVD prevalence, the researchers said.
And rates of heart disease continue to vary substantially depending on where a person lives and how well off s/he is.
The new recommendations extend the current focus of preventive treatment from targeting only those at high short term (within the next 10 years) risk of a heart attack/stroke to those whose familial and lifestyle factors at a younger age indicate a low short term risk, but a high lifetime risk of developing CVD.
The approach is based on the growing body of evidence showing that there is a long build-up (pre-clinical phase) to CVD, and that most heart attacks and strokes occur in people who are in the ‘intermediate’ risk category.
Nevertheless, “most surveys suggest that the majority of the public underestimate their lifetime risk of developing and dying of CVD, considering cancer to be a greater threat despite robust evidence to the contrary,” the authors said.
To try and stop CVD in its tracks and stave off the associated ill health and disability, the recommendations therefore include the JBS3 risk calculator, which aims to help healthcare professionals and patients better understand cumulative lifetime risk, and what can be done to lower it.
A key component of the calculator is a better understanding of the true age of the heart. This is worked out using current familial and lifestyle risk factors, and used to predict how many more years that individual can expect to live before s/he has a heart attack/stroke compared with someone without these particular factors – if no corrective action is taken.
So, for example, a 35 year old woman smoker, with a systolic blood pressure of 160 mm Hg and a total cholesterol of 7 mmol/l, plus a family history of premature CVD, would have a true heart age of 47 and expect to survive to the age of 71 without having a heart attack/stroke. Her 10 year risk would be less than 2 percent.
But if this woman quit smoking, cut her total cholesterol to 4 mmol/l and her systolic blood pressure to 130 mm Hg, her heart age would fall to 30. She could expect to live to the age of 85 before having a heart attack/stroke and more than halve her 10 year risk to less than 0.25 percent.
Lifestyle changes include quitting smoking, adopting a healthy diet, and boosting the amount of regular exercise while curbing sedentary activity.