Harvard Heart Letter

The wake-up-call heart attack

Four lessons we can learn from nonfatal cardiac events.

In the spring of 2005, driven by mere curiosity, Mike, a friend of the Heart Letter, calculated his 10-year risk for a heart attack using one of the tools available back then. The result: 5%. That put him in the low-risk category. Three weeks later, having just turned 49, Mike had a heart attack.

A recent study of heart disease risk brings Mike's story to mind. Researchers pooled data from 17 studies covering nearly 68,000 people and calculated that the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease for men from ages 55 to 80 was only 4.7% if they had an "optimal risk-factor profile" in middle age. Optimal means not smoking, having normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and being free of diabetes.

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