New lifetime risk measure to predict heart disease

26 March 2014        

Doctor showing a patient a heart model

Doctors should help patients prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) earlier in their life, according to new recommendations published today.

People could live healthier and longer lives if doctors assessed a patient’s risk of evolving CVD over the course of their lifetime. Currently, strategies to prevent and treat CVD are based on estimating a person’s risk of CVD in the next 10 years.

By only using short term estimates, the long term health consequences of modifiable risk factors – such as blood pressure and cholesterol – are overlooked, even if they put a person at a high lifetime risk. Evidence shows that early lifestyle interventions and, where necessary, drug treatment can modify disease evolution and the risk of future CVD events.

The proposals are published in a report by the Joint British Societies – a group of leading organisations, including the BHF, interested in cardiovascular health. The key feature of the new guidelines is an innovative risk calculator: a web-based interactive tool, health professionals can use with patients to help communicate their longer term CVD risk.

By taking this new life-time approach, GPs and primary care professionals will be able to better identify people who will benefit from prevention advice.

The calculator also shows the extra years of healthier life people could gain by implementing interventions, whether these are lifestyle or pharmacological. Novel metrics such as ‘heart age’ and CVD event free survival are displayed together with more traditional 10-year risk. The aim is to empower individuals and help patients understand the benefits of reducing their risk of CVD. It also emphasises the need for long-term maintenance of risk factor lowering to have the greatest influence on CVD risk over lifetime.

Our Associate Medical Director Dr Mike Knapton, said: “Under the previous guidelines, we only started conversations with people about preventing disease after they’d significantly raised their risk. By taking this new life-time approach, GPs and primary care professionals will be able to better identify people who will benefit from prevention advice."

The guidelines were produced by a group chaired by BHF Professor John Deanfield at the Institute of Child Health. Professor Deanfield said: “JBS3 takes a personalised lifetime approach to cardiovascular risk. It is about lifestyle and if they are needed, getting medication to the right people at the right time”.