Avoiding risk factors boosts healthy heart years by 11-13 years

For the first time, scientists can quantify how many heart-failure free years a person can gain by not developing obesity, hypertension and diabetes by the age of 45, according to a study scheduled for presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego.

The study found that people who had obesity, hypertension and diabetes by age 45 were diagnosed with heart failure 11 to 13 years earlier, on average, than people who had none of those risk factors by age 45. People who had only one or two of the risk factors, but not all three, developed heart failure an average of three to 11 years earlier than people with none of the risk factors.

"The message from this study is that you really want to prevent or delay the onset of these risk factors for as long as possible," said Faraz Ahmad, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Northwestern University and the study's lead author. "Doing so can significantly increase the number of years you are likely to live free of heart failure."

The new findings offer clinicians a potentially more persuasive way of discussing the risk factors for heart failure: "In the clinic, we often give patients metrics of risk that are relative and abstract," Ahmed said. "It's a much more powerful message, when you're talking to patients in their 30s or 40s, to say that they will be able to live 11 to 13 years longer without heart failure if they can avoid developing these three risk factors now."

These findings come for an analysis of pooled data from four large studies including a total of 18,280 people conducted over the past 40 years.

Further research is planned to investigate the data to determine whether the use of medications to control risk factors helps to delay the onset of heart failure. They also plan to assess whether there are any differences among different racial groups.

The study, "Hypertension, Obesity, Diabetes, and Heart Failure-Free Survival: The Cardiovascular Lifetime Risk Pooling Project," will be presented on March 14 at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET/5 p.m. UTC at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session in San Diego. The meeting runs March 14-16.