Chronic illness affects millions of people in the United States every year and accounts for a large proportion of the total number of deaths. New research proposes a clinical tool that can be used to accurately predict the risk of chronic disease.

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Research shows that a new clinical tool can accurately predict who is at risk of chronic illness – including heart attack and heart failure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that approximately half of all U.S. adults experienced at least one chronic health condition in 2012. Some of the most common chronic conditions include heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

The CDC also report that almost half of all deaths (48 percent) are attributable to two common and preventable chronic illnesses: heart disease and cancer.

Researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, UT, have designed a test that accurately measures the risk of chronic illness.

The risk score, called the Intermountain Chronic Disease Risk Score (ICHRON), is the result of routine blood tests combined with the age of the patients in primary care. According to the researchers, it can predict who will receive their first diagnosis of a chronic disease within 3 years of the test.

Some of the chronic illnesses this test accounts for include diabetes, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and dementia, as well as a range of cardiovascular diseases such as peripheral vascular disease, atrial fibrillation, stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

The study was led by Dr. Heidi May, Ph.D., a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, and the findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 66th Annual Scientific Session in Washington, D.C.

Dr. May and team investigated a population sample of male and female primary care patients who had no history of chronic disease. The researchers developed the score among this group, and tested it in another, separate, primary care group.

Overall, Dr. May and colleagues report that their test generates predictions that are 77 to 78 percent accurate.

Women who scored moderately on the ICHRON score were three times more likely to receive a chronic disease diagnosis compared with their low-score counterparts. Female patients with a high ICHRON score were 11 times more likely to develop, and be diagnosed with, a chronic disease.

Male patients with a high ICHRON score were 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with a chronic condition, compared with their lower-scoring peers. Additionally, those who scored moderately were 5.6 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of chronic illness.

The researchers hope that their new tool will help physicians to tailor their clinical decisions according to each patient’s needs.

Our goal was to create a clinical tool that is useful, easily obtainable, and does not slow the work-flow of our clinicians. We hope ICHRON can be used to help identify patients who are at a higher risk for a chronic disease and therefore need more personalized care. For example, if a patient received a high ICHRON score, the clinician could plan to see the patient more frequently or be more aggressive with treatments. Or if the patient had a low ICHRON score, they could potentially be seen less often, or their care providers could forego a test they were considering.”

Dr. Heidi May

The team also hope that the ICHRON score will help clinicians to predict and inform the patients of the chronic disease risks that they are faced with, so that patients can make lifestyle choices that will prevent the total development of these illnesses.

Consequently, Dr. May suggests, this tool will drastically lower healthcare costs for these patients.

“It is a lot less expensive to help patients improve their lifestyles than it is to treat a heart attack – and that is in addition to all of the physical and emotional benefits that result from healthier lifestyles,” she says. “The ICHRON tool supports Intermountain Healthcare’s system effort to use preventive medicine to improve people’s health and control healthcare costs.”

Learn why few people engage in health behaviors that might prevent chronic disease.