Determine Your “Heart Age”
How old is your heart? That is a question recently being asked by clinicians following the development of multivariable prediction models to predict the risk of cardiovascular disease based on a person's risk factor profile.
The thinking goes that heart age might be an effective way to communicate to people their individual-level risk of developing CVD, with heart age functioning as a wake-up call to improve health.
This new measure of risk for cardiovascular disease was created using data from something called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (specifically, from 2011 and 2013). The BRFSS is a “state-based, random-digit-dialed telephone survey that uses a multistage sampling design to select a state-specific sample from noninstitutionalized U.S. civilian adults aged ≥18 years,” as the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report notes.
Weighted 2011 and 2013 BRFSS data collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were combined to obtain stable estimates. Among 981,660 participants, 41% were excluded for either: being less than 30 or over 75 years of age, in order to meet the recommended age range for heart age calculation; already having coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction or stroke at baseline; being pregnant; or missing covariates used for blood pressure prediction. This still left an impressive 578,525 participants for analysis.
Researchers then gathered information on age, smoking status, antihypertensive medication use, diabetes status and BMI for these nearly 600,000 adults aged 30 to 74. Systolic blood pressure was predicted with models, and this information was used to calculate people's Framingham risk score and predicted heart age.
The concept dates back to 2008, when the Framingham Heart Study first introduced the predicted age of the vascular system of a person based on his or her cardiovascular risk factor profile. The comparison of heart age to chronological age represents an alternative way to express a person's risk for having a CVD event and provides information about a person's cardiovascular health that is not clear from the more traditional 10-year risk score alone.
Until now, however, no study has provided population-level estimates of heart age and examined disparities in heart age among U.S. adults.
The heart ages of U.S. men and women are estimated to be 7.8 and 5.4 years older, respectively, than their actual ages. Roughly 44% of U.S. adults were found to have heart ages estimated to be at least 5 years older than their actual ages.
The CDC reports that cardiovascular disease is responsible for nearly 800,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Studies have identified a number of modifiable CVD risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and overweight or obesity.
It is therefore useful to both know the alarming nationwide numbers, and also your individual heart age, which you can calculate on your own. To find out your heart age, follow the link here. Have handy your systolic blood pressure value, and your BMI, which you can calculate here.