Heart attacks are one of the worldwide leading causes of death. Although it is important to know the symptoms when they occur, how can you predict your chances of having a heart attack in the future before it happens?
Cardiovascular Risk Factors
The conditions that increase your chance of heart disease (and stroke) are called cardiovascular risk factors. These are generally divided into those that are modifiable (behaviours or factors that you can influence) and those that are non-modifiable. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk of a heart attack.
Common cardiovascular risk factors include:
- increasing age
- male gender
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- high cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia or hypercholesterolaemia)
- diabetes (both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus)
- sedentary lifestyle
- poor diet, including high salt and saturated fat
Each of these can vary in terms of how much risk they add – for example, the more years smoked, the higher the risk. Similarly, the poorer the control of diabetes, the higher chance of a heart attack.
To help put these in perspective, we use risk calculators. There are quite a few available, and differ by ease of use, type of information used, region of the world, and accuracy of the recommendation. Here are a few suggested ones:
The Heart Foundation (together with a few other societies) hosts a risk calculator designed specifically for the Australian population, to calculate absolute cardiovascular risk.
This calculates your ten year risk of either heart disease or stroke. It is applicable for people between the age of 40 and 79. There is more information about interpretation of your result here.
This one is from multiple British Societies, including the groups for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke.
Of course these calculators only provide estimates of your risk and aren’t specific to you only – in the future, we will have more specific calculations based on your genes and risk profile, particularly when we combine these large datasets with newer predictive techniques utilising artificial intelligence.