The lifetime risk in men and women for cardiovascular disease is over 50 percent, and even in those of us who have an ideal cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor description, that risk is still over 30 percent, according to new research in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As background information, the authors inform that no published data on the lifetime risk for total CVD has existed up until this point. Estimates of lifetime risk for total CVD could potentially shed light on the impact of CVD on the future population, and may help in clinician-patient risk conversation and awareness.

Total CVD includes:

John T. Wilkins, M.D., M.S., of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, and his associates performed a study to calculate lifetime risk for total CVD in different models for women and men in total, and by risk factor collection at index ages of 45, 55, 65, and 75 years.

The study included a combined survival analysis data from 1964 through 2008 from five National Lung, Heart, and Blood Institute-funded community-based cohorts: Framingham Heart Study, Framingham Offspring Study, Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry Study, and Cardiovascular Health Study.

At the beginning of the study, all participants were free of CVD, with risk factor data and total outcome data.

Risk factors are as follows:

The main result measure for this study was any total CVD event:

  • congestive heart failure
  • fatal and nonfatal coronary heart disease
  • all forms of stroke
  • any other CVD deaths

Among all ages measured, 1.7 percent to 7.9 percent of people were in the all favorable risk factor group. On the other hand, over 55 percent of people were in the 1 major, or at least 2 major risk factor groups at all age ranges.

At one point during follow-up throughout all age groups, nearly 30 percent to 35 percent of participants experienced a CVD event. The researchers saw that at the age of 45 years, general lifetime risk estimates for total CVD to the age of 95 were 55.6 percent for women and 60.3 percent for men. Women exhibited notably lower lifetime risk approximations than men at all ages measured.

During ages 55 and 65 year measurements, men and women with at least 1 elevated risk factor, 1 major risk factor, or at least 2 major risk factors had lifetime risk calculations until age 95 that reached over 50 percent. At index age 55 years, men with ideal risk factor profiles still had lifetime risks for total CVD that were over 40 percent, while women had risks that neared 30 percent through age 85.

Extended survival time without total CVD was experienced by people with ideal risk factor levels, when compared with participants with at least 2 major risk factors, seen at all age measurements. The authors said, “For example, at an index age of 45 years, individuals with optimal risk factor profiles lived up to 14 years longer free of total CVD than individuals with at least 2 risk factors.”

The investigators also mention, “lifetime risks for total CVD were high regardless of index age, indicating that achieving older age free of total CVD does not guarantee escape from remaining lifetime risk for total CVD.”

The authors believe that the surprising result of lifetime CVD risk even in participants with an optimal risk profile, proves this topic could be a public health strain and may lead to chances to prevent CVD.

More American women die from cardiovascular diseases each year than any other condition or disease, according to a report issued by Women Heart (July 2011). Nearly 50% of women die from heart disease or stroke, compared to 4% from breast cancer. Over 420,000 women in the United States die from some type of cardiovascular disease annually.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald