Lifetime risk of developing heart disease is substantial

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More than half of all men and women over the age of 45 will develop heart disease in their lifetime, according to a new health risk analysis.

The study, published online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., is the first of its kind to calculate the lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease for specific age groups. Among other conclusions, study authors found that even adults with optimal heart health face a 30% chance of developing heart disease.

“To date, there have been no published data on lifetime risk,” wrote Dr. John T. Wilkins and colleagues. Wilkins, a cardiology professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said the study would help to predict the number of future heart disease patients nationally.


The study found that while the risk of heart disease was high for all age groups, maintaining good heart health during middle age resulted in a substantially longer lifespan. Also, women had a significantly lower risk than men for all age groups.

At age 45, men faced a 60% chance of developing heart disease by age 95, while women faced odds of just under 56%, according to the study authors. By age 75, just under 55% of men and 52% of women faced the risk of heart disease.

The study consisted of a pooled survival analysis of patients dating back to 1964 and involved more than 120,000 men and women.

Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes were all found to adversely affect patient survival rates.

Across all age groups, only between 2% and 8% of patients were found to have optimal heart health, while more than 55% fell into at least one category of elevated risk.

Optimal heart health was defined as having systolic blood pressure that was less than 120 and diastolic pressure of less than 80. Also, these patients did not smoke or have diabetes and their total cholesterol measured less than 180 mg/dl.


Maintaining heart health in middle age was associated with a substantial delay in the onset of disease. In some case, the delay was up to 14 years, the authors wrote.