Not Age or Race, but Risk Factors Determine 'Cardiovascular Destiny'

Article excerpt

(CNN) -- It's well documented that certain factors increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Most people know the big ones - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. But age, gender and ethnicity also have been thought to play a role.

Now a report published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that these risk factors alone are responsible for your cardiovascular destiny, and that having just one can up your risk considerably.

Study authors analyzed the data from 18 studies involving more than 250,000 men and women from different ethnic backgrounds whose risk factors were measured at age 45, 55, 65 and 75. This allowed the authors to determine the risk of dying from heart attack or stroke over the course of a lifetime, rather than just 5 to 10 years in the future as has been previously studied.

What the researchers found can be boiled down to this:

"Regardless of how old you are, male or female, white or black, what decade you were born in, your cardiovascular destiny is determined by those risk factors," study author Dr. Donald Lloyd- Jones said.

Cardiovascular destiny - an interesting phrase. Lloyd-Jones, a cardiologist and researcher at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, uses the term to describe a person's likelihood of dying from a heart attack or stroke. He said that destiny can be set in stone by your mid-forties.

So what does that mean? Let's say a 45-year-old man comes into a doctor's office with zero risk factors: His cholesterol level is less than 180, his blood pressure is less than 120 over 80, he doesn't smoke and he doesn't have diabetes. His risk of dying from cardiovascular disease at any point during his lifetime is approximately 1.4%, according to the study.

But let's assume he's more like the majority of Americans, this man has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. …