Cardiovascular health − healthy blood vessels throughout your body − greatly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye diseases and circulatory problems. Even Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to the health of the minute blood vessels in the brain.
Control of CVD has traditionally focused on single risk factors, such as high cholesterol or being overweight. This is the ‘relative risk’ approach, where a relative risk of, say 2, for a risk factor means you’re twice as likely to develop CVD as someone without that factor.
But the absolute risk approach, first used in the 1990s, recognises that several risk factors contribute to CVD and their combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts. This approach takes a person’s age, sex, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes status and smoking status and applies these to the Cardiovascular Risk Charts. From this, you (or your GP) arrive at your absolute risk of a CVD event in the next five years. The risk is expressed as a percentage (eg ‘20% chance of a CVD event in next five years’).
How to find the CVD risk charts
To find the charts, go to the Heart Foundation website. The charts need to be printed in colour to be effective. For a DIY assessment, you must know your:
- blood pressure
- total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio
- asymptomatic diabetes status
Ask your GP to give you an absolute CVD risk assessment as part of your regular health check if you are over 45. You can have a cardiovascular health plan that may aim to modify two or three risk factors rather than just, for example, lowering your cholesterol. You can work to achieve the lowest risk possible.
For people at high or very high risk, according to the chart (a five-year CVD event risk that exceeds 15%), interventions to reduce the risk should begin at once. The risk charts, developed from data collected by the Framington Heart Study in the US, do not take into account being overweight, a lack of exercise or family history of heart disease. However, inactivity and being overweight have strong indirect influences on your result, because they affect cholesterol levels, blood pressure and risk for diabetes. Future research may well conclude that a CVD five-year risk percentage should be increased when body fat exceeds a certain level.