Assessing Your Personal Risk of Heart Disease-No Risk Factors by 50 is a Good Goal
You've heard this before: "Well,
my Aunt Sally smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, drank a bourbon every night,
never exercised a day in her life and she lived to be 97 years old. I plan to
be like Aunt Sally."
It can feel like a game of chance
sometimes. Spin the wheel and hope that you get the lucky number that keeps
you free of heart disease without having to give up the habits you enjoy.
But the truth is there's a lot of
information that can help us figure out how likely we are to be one of the lucky
ones. Here are some figures that researchers have learned from a recent study:
Managing risk important for people
- More than 50 percent of men and
nearly 40 percent of women will develop cardiovascular disease sometime in
- If, on the other hand, at age
50, an individual has low cholesterol, blood pressure in the normal range,
doesn't smoke and doesn't have diabetes-this is called "optimal risk
factors"-the risk of developing heart disease if you're a man is 5.2
percent and if you're a woman, 8.2 percent.
- Among people who had two or more
of the risk factors above, men's risk of heart attack was 68.9 percent and
women's risk was 50.2 percent.
- In terms of overall survival,
men and women who had optimal risk factors at age 50 lived an average of 39
more years, while men who had two risk factors lived 28 more years and women
who had two risk factors lived 31 more years.
- The highest risk for cardiovascular
disease was diabetes. Men who had diabetes by age 50 had a 67.1 percent chance
of developing heart disease, while women with diabetes had a 43 percent chance
of doing so.
It's common for people to think
they don't have to start worrying about heart disease or stroke until they're
older. But the take-away message for everybody here is that these numbers
are important to people younger than 50 as well.
In fact, you could even say the
numbers apply more. Because it's much easier to take steps to avoid the risk
factors than it is to get rid of the risk factor once you have it. What does
this mean in real life terms?
Make sure you take steps NOW
Aunt Sally was probably one of the lucky
ones who never developed high blood pressure, didn't get diabetes and had healthy
cholesterol levels. You many be lucky too, and be just like your Aunt Sally. On
the other hand, you may not. Isn't it a good idea to find out what the reality
is, instead of spinning a wheel and hoping things turn out in your favor?
- Keep blood pressure under control.
This means finding out what your blood pressure is, and if it's in the good
range, do your best to keep it there by managing your stress levels, getting
exercise just about every day, avoiding cigarettes and eating healthy foods.
- Manage diabetes, if you have it.
Too much sugar in your blood wreaks havoc with your cardiovascular system.
The more tightly you control your diabetes, the better you're doing at managing
your risk of heart disease.
- Keep cholesterol under control.
Find out what your cholesterol is, and if it's in the good range, talk with
your doctor about what you need to do to keep it there. If it's high, follow
your doctor's recommendations for lowering it. This may include taking a cholesterol-lowering
- If you smoke, try to quit. This
is hard to do, but not as hard as trying to live with heart disease. Talk
to your doctor about ways to quit. Studies show that people who work with
their doctors on smoking cessation have higher success rates.
Circulation, Rapid Access Journal Report, 7 February 2006