Your likelihood of someday developing or dying from cardiovascular disease is established earlier in life than you might think, a new study suggests. And those risk factors we always hear about? They really do correspond to actual risk of getting heart disease.
Researchers reporting Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine pooled data from 18 studies from the past 50 years and analyzed it to examine the influence of heart-health risk factors throughout lifetime. They tallied risk factors —blood pressure, cholesterol level, smoking status and diabetes status— for 257,384 people whose health was assessed at ages 45, 55, 65 and 75.
They found that people with one or more risk factors as early as age 45 are at heightened risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease by age 80 than those with fewer or no such risk factors, regardless of whether they are black or white. Earlier studies had not established that.
Participants with no risk factors at age 55 were far less likely to die from cardiovascular disease by age 80 than those with two or more risk factors (4.7 percent versus 29.6 percent for men, 6.4 percent versus 20.5 percent for women). They also had much lower risks of fatal coronary heart disease or nonfatal myocardial infarction (3.6 percent versus 37.5 percent for men, less than 1 percent versus 18.3 percent for women), and fatal or nonfatal stroke than people with two or more risk factors (2.3 percent versus 8.3 percent for men, 5.3 percent versus 10.7 percent for women).
The findings held up even after adjustments were made to account for such circumstances as the population-wide decline in smoking over past decades. The data was also adjusted to account for the effects of medical treatments that reduce cardiovascular disease risk, and the role of “competing risks” such as dying from cancer was examined, too.
Though cardiovascular risk factors are more common among blacks than among whites, making the overall burden of cardiovascular disease greater for the black population than the white, risk factors’ influence on individual likelihood of developing heart disease did not differ between blacks and whites.
The authors say their work argues in favor of promoting initiatives to prevent people from developing risk factors in the first place rather than treatments to lessen their impact on people’s health after they’ve appeared.