UK doctors launch new 'heart age' tool
Risk calculators for cardiovascular disease (CVD; conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels) are nothing new – the Framingham risk calculator has been available for years. But the new JBS3 has many benefits:
- Easily accessible online.
- Provides what is considered an accurate risk estimation of experiencing a serious CVD event such as a heart attack or stroke.
- Is of use to younger adults who could be on the route to a stroke or heart attack due to unhealthy lifestyle choices, even if short-term risk is low.
The calculator includes ‘heart age’ estimates and predicts the years they can be expected to enjoy without developing CVD. It also shows the benefits that people would experience if they made changes to their lifestyle such as stopping smoking or reducing blood pressure or cholesterol levels. The ultimate aim is to empower people to reduce their risk of CVD.
The risk calculator has been produced by experts from 11 UK professional societies (the Joint British Societies; JBS) and charities involved with CVD prevention.
Part of newly updated JBS guidelines on the prevention of cardiovascular disease, called JBS3, the tool is based on the available scientific evidence and on assumptions where evidence is not available.
The guidelines have been written for GPs and practitioners to help guide their work with patients in preventing CVD and it is expected that JBS3 will become an important component of the NHS Health Check plan – an ongoing program for adults aged 40 or over.
The press release accompanying the release of the guidelines and calculator gives an example of a 35 year old female smoker, with:
- a high systolic blood pressure of 160 mmHg
- a high total cholesterol of 7 mmol/l (the recommended level for healthy individuals is 5mmol/l)
- plus a family history of premature CVD.
The calculator estimates that the woman would have a “true heart age” of 47. She could expect to survive to the age of 71 without having a heart attack or stroke. Her 10-year risk would be less than 2%.
The calculator estimates that if this woman stopped smoking, cut her total cholesterol to 4 mmol/l and her systolic blood pressure to 130 mmHg her heart age would fall to 30. She could expect to live to the age of 85 before having a heart attack or stroke and her 10-year risk would be considerably reduced to less than 0.25%.
The JBS3 risk calculator is going to form a key component of the NHS Health Check program in England aimed at 40–74 year-olds. The authors note it is not intended to prompt blanket prescribing of the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins or other heart health drugs.
In a related press release the Joint British Societies state: “It is important to emphasize that, for the majority, the strong message will be the potential gains from an early and sustained change to a healthier lifestyle rather than prescription of drugs”.
The JBS3 risk calculator is not appropriate for people who have existing CVD and should only be used with caution in patients with certain high risk conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.