Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and the World Health Organization estimates that by 2013, over 23 million people will die each year from the condition. In an effort to lower risks, new recommendations for preventing the disease have been drawn up by 11 professional societies and charitable organizations in the UK.
These recommendations have been published in the journal Heart.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease (CVD) resulted in nearly 600,000 deaths in the US in 2010.
Likewise, in the UK, there are currently 7 million people living with the disease, approximately 160,000 of whom die each year.
A major global health problem, heart disease deaths have actually halved over the past 40-50 years, particularly in high-income countries where identification of common risk factors and national public health initiatives have helped.
However, "despite impressive progress, there is much still to be achieved in the prevention and management of cardiovascular care, with no room for complacency," the authors of the latest study say.
To provide further recommendations, the Joint British Societies' consensus recommendations for the prevention of cardiovascular disease (JBS3) have drawn from the latest available scientific evidence.
And their main recommendation involves putting patients at the heart of prevention by starting defensive actions early, with the aid of a risk assessment tool, called the JBS3 risk calculator.
Recommendations look at long-term risk and lifestyle factors from youth
CVD risks can be decreased by modifying certain lifestyle factors, such as quitting smoking and exercising more.
The investigators note that people could live healthier, longer lives if doctors assess patient risk of CVD over the long term.
Currently, strategies for preventing and treating the disease are based on estimating a person's risk of CVD in the next 10 years. But the new recommendations extend this focus from targeting only those at short-term risk to those whose family and lifestyle factors from a younger age indicate a high lifetime risk.
The researchers say their approach is based on the growing evidence that suggests there is a long pre-clinical phase to CVD and that most heart attacks or strokes occur in individuals in the "intermediate" risk category.
They note that, despite evidence to the contrary, most of the public underestimate their lifetime risk of developing and dying of CVD, regarding cancer as a greater threat instead.
As such, the JBS3 risk calculator aims to better educate individuals about their lifetime CVD risk by revealing the "true age of the heart."
Using family and lifestyle risk factors, the calculator predicts how many more years an individual will likely live before he or she has a heart attack or stroke, compared with an individual without those risk factors.
The authors say the risk calculator "is a novel and exciting tool that can be used to motivate both physicians and patients to tackle the potential scourge of CVD, at a time when overt disease is not present and prevention may exert its greatest impact."
Emphasis on lifestyle changes rather than prescription drugs
The team is hopeful that the risk calculator will empower patients and help them understand why they need to start reducing their risk of CVD, when they should start and exactly what they should do.
Fast facts about CVD
- Over 80% of CVD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
- Worldwide in 2008, an estimated 17.3 million people died from CVDs.
- By 2030, over 23 million people are estimated to die each year from CVDs.
"It is important to emphasize that, for the majority, the strong message will be the potential gains from an early and sustained change to a healthier lifestyle rather than prescription of drugs," they say.
Modifiable lifestyle factors include adopting a healthy diet, quitting smoking and increasing the amount of regular exercise while decreasing sedentary activity.
The researchers note that acute cardiovascular care is quite expensive. With life expectancy increasing, prevalence of CVD likewise rises.
"The lifesaving gains made through national investment in acute cardiovascular care over more than a decade now need to be complemented by a modern and integrated approach to cardiovascular prevention," they say.
Medical News Today recently reported on a new 3D-printed membrane that is implanted onto the outer layer of the heart wall to predict occurrence of heart attacks, transforming patient treatment.
Written by Marie Ellis