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Lifetime Risk for Heart Disease Is High

< Nov. 07, 2012 > -- Even if you have no risk factors for cardiovascular disease, you may still be at increased risk for it, a new study says.

Overall, U.S. adults have more than a 55 percent risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Among people with no risk factors - such as smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes - the risk is still more than 30 percent, say researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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Sifted through data

The researchers examined data that had been collected by five studies from 1964 through 2008. The studies were funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease when the studies began.

The researchers then looked at the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and calculated the estimated lifetime risk for each participant at ages 45, 55, 65, and 75.

Across all ages, people who had no risk factors had a lower lifetime risk than those with at least two major risk factors. For example, at age 45, people with the lowest risk lived up to 14 years longer free of cardiovascular disease than those with at least two major risk factors.

Other findings

Other highlights from the study, which was published online this week in JAMA:

  • About a third of the participants of all ages had a heart attack, stroke, or congestive heart failure during the study period.

  • Women had a much lower lifetime cardiovascular disease risk at all age points compared with men.

  • At age 45, the estimated overall lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease was more than 60 percent for men and nearly 56 percent for women.

  • At ages 55 and 65, the lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease was more than 50 percent for men and women who had high blood pressure or high total cholesterol but who didn't have diabetes and didn't smoke.

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Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet

Eating a nutritious diet is a proven way to reduce the risk for heart disease. Here are the basics:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.

  • Limit saturated and trans fats by using olive oil or other vegetable oils instead of butter or margarine. Limit your total fat intake to less than 30 percent of your daily calories.

  • Eat more chicken and fish and less red meat.

  • Choose at least half of your daily grains from whole-grain bread and cereal.

  • Limit or eliminate fast foods, which are often loaded with salt, sugar, and fats.

  • If you drink alcohol, do so moderately. That means no more than two drinks a day if you're a man and one if you're a woman.

  • Limit your sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.

  • Include fat-free or low-fat milk or dairy products instead of full fat versions.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Heart Association - Get Healthy

JAMA - Lifetime Risk and Years Lived Free of Total Cardiovascular Disease

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - Heart and Vascular Information