The lifetime risk of suffering heart disease depends on the risk factors that we develop in our younger and middle age, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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 same risk.
AdvertisementA 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.
Among the 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.