Friday, April 01, 2016

What Is Heart Age?

Have you ever heard a term called “heart age”? According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), heart age gives a simple risk calculation for having or dying of heart attack or stroke. The higher the heart age, the higher the risk of getting a heart attack or stroke. It is the calculated age of a person’s cardiovascular system based on his or her risk factor profile, including high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes status, and body mass index (BMI) as an indicator for obesity.

Using risk factor data collected from every state and information from the Framingham Heart Study, the CDC researchers found that nearly 69 million American adults aged between 30 and 74 have a heart age older than their actual age.

The report that was released on September 1, 2015 is the the first to provide population-level estimates of heart age in the United States. It showed that heart age varies by race/ethnicity, gender, region, and other sociodemographic characteristics.

Overall, the average heart age for adult men is 8 years older than their chronological age, compared to 5 years older for women. Among both American men and women, excess heart age increases with age and decreases with greater education and household income. Heart age was also found to be highest among African-American men and women (average of 11 years older for both). Meanwhile, there are geographic differences in average heart age across states. 

About 3 in 4 heart attacks and strokes are due to risk factors that raise heart age. But many people do not understand their cardiovascular disease risk, and they could simply miss the early opportunities to prevent future heart attack or stroke. By knowing own heart age, people can learn how to improve it.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. It is important to continue focusing on efforts to prevent heart disease and increase access to early and affordable detection and treatment resources.

In general, people can quit smoking or reduce blood pressure through eating a healthier diet, taking appropriate medication, or exercising more. The governments can also play a role by helping to promote healthier living spaces like tobacco-free areas, more access to healthy food options, and safe walking paths. More importantly, physicians can make use of cardiovascular risk assessment calculators to decide for their patients the type of treatments they need and work with them on healthy habits.

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