There are a number of conditions that predispose a
person to heart and related diseases like stroke. Some of these are modifiable,
that is, they can be prevented or treated. These include high blood pressure,
increase in cholesterol levels, smoking, lack of exercise, diabetes and a high
fat diet. On the other hand, we cannot do anything with some of the risk
factors and just have to live with them. These are referred to as the
non-modifiable risk factors. For example, if your family members are likely to
suffer from a heart disease due to a genetic problem, you may also be at the
A middle-aged person may be at a relatively low risk
of suffering a heart problem over the next few years even if he has one or more
risk factors. However, the same risk
factors could be important in determining the long-term consequences on the
heart health of the individual.
The lifetime risk for suffering from a heart-related
disease in people of different ages, sex and races was assessed in the study.
The study analyzed the data of more than 2 50 000 participants from 18 studies
published over the last 50 years. In these studies, the risk factors for
cardiovascular disease were measured at the ages 45, 55, 65 and 75 years. Data
regarding blood pressure, cholesterol level, smoking status, and diabetes
status were recorded.
Based on the risk factors present, the patients were
put into 5 categories. In the first category, all the risk factors of the
participants were optimal. These patients were non-smokers and had a normal
blood cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure. This group comprised of only 5%
of all participants. In the second category, at least one risk factor was not
optimal. In the third, at least one risk factor like cholesterol level or blood
pressure was elevated. In the fourth, the patients had one major risk factor.
In the last category, the patients had 2 or more major risk factors. The last
two categories included nearly one-third of all participants.
people at different ages, the risk for death from heart and related diseases
like stroke was higher in people with more risk factors. Though the black
participants suffered from more number of risks, lifetime risk for death due to
heart-related disease was the same irrespective of whether the person was black
or white, when those at the same risk levels were compared. The lifetime risk
for suffering from heart disease was the same irrespective of age, race or sex
of the person.
The study thus reiterates the importance of treating
risk factors to reduce the chances of suffering from death due to heart and
related disease. Moreover, efforts to
prevent the development of risk factors right from a young age could go a long
way in preventing deaths in the long term. Focusing on prevention rather than
treatment is also likely to be more effective.
1. Lifetime Risks of Cardiovascular Disease; Jarett Berry et al; N Engl
J Med 2012; 366:321-329.