It’s almost February, and that means Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. At this time of year, we tend to be sentimental, thinking about love and loving, friends, family and partners. That’s all good – social connectedness has a huge impact on our general health and well-being. But leave the flowers and chocolates behind for a moment to think about your heart health. Indeed, this is a great time to focus on ourselves.
In medicine, we have always discussed the risk of heart disease and how it differs among people. Some risk factors that contribute to heart disease are modifiable, such as smoking, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, exercise and weight. But there are others that are non-modifiable, such as age, family history and sex.
This is important, as we want to be aggressive about tackling our modifiable risk factors to effectively reduce our risk of disease. There are a number of ways to calculate risk that can help physicians decide who is at what level. A low-risk person has less than a 10 percent chance of having a cardiac event, stroke or heart attack in the next 10 years, a moderate-risk person has a 10 to 20 percent chance, and a high-risk person has a greater than 20 percent chance of one of those dreaded events. This calculation can help you and your doctor make an informed decision about medication options and other decisions.
Figuring Out Your Heart Age
In addition to looking at cardiac risk, one of the more recent concepts is looking at cardiac age. This further evaluation has the impact of helping doctors decide about menopausal hormone therapy and which female patients may or may not be reasonable candidates for this treatment.
Chronological age alone isn’t the only indicator of cardiac age. Cardiovascular age is calculated by looking at a variety of factors, including gender, weight, height, ethnicity, smoking history, a review of chronic medical conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation and/or diabetes), cholesterol levels, blood pressure and family history. A 60-year-old may have a heart age of 40 or 70, depending on the answers to these questions.
The current discussion in medicine suggests that a heart age of 70 or higher is a contraindication to hormone use, no matter what the chronological age. A heart age of 60 or below appears reassuring in considering the use of hormones.
So, 60 could, quite literally, be the new 40 – you just might be young at heart, and that is worth celebrating. And if not, let’s start working on those modifiable risks.
Want to calculate your risk? Check out heartage.me
Dr Viven Brown is a family physician and past-president of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada.