Harvard Heart Letter

A new crystal ball

Calculating your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, developing peripheral artery disease, or dying from cardiovascular disease sounds like ghoulish business. Yet it can be reassuring if your risk is low. And it can be a lifesaver if a higher number prompts you to make healthy changes.

The earliest tool for estimating heart disease risk was developed by researchers with the pioneering Framingham Heart Study. It helped predict an individual's chances of developing coronary artery disease, the potentially deadly accumulation of cholesterol-filled plaque in arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. That tool was followed by others that covered stroke, heart failure, or other individual cardiovascular conditions.

Now the Framingham team is back with an updated quiz that gauges the overall risk of cardiovascular disease. It assigns points for various risk factors. Total points are then correlated with the chances of having a heart attack or stroke or developing some other form of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years. Under 10% is considered low risk, 10% to 20% is considered moderate risk, and over 20% is considered very high risk. The new tool also presents risk in a new way. It estimates your "vascular age" "" how old your arteries are, regardless of how old you are.

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