Study of Heart Failure Patients Defines How Avoiding Risk Factors Can Add Years to Life

The study, which will presented next week at the meeting of the American College of Cardiology, defined how much avoiding diabetes, obesity, and hypertension before age 45 matters if one is later diagnosed with heart failure.

How much does avoiding risk factors like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension in your 30s and 40s matter? A lot it turns out. According to a new study, persons who had all 3 risk factors by age 45 were diagnosed with heart failure 11 to 13 years earlier than those without those risk factors.

Results of the study were released yesterday by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and will be presented next week at the group’s 64th annual Scientific Session in San Diego, California. The study found that persons who had 1 or 2 of the risk factors, but not all 3, developed heart failure an average of 3 to 11years earlier that those without any of the risk factors.

Faraz Ahmad, MD, a Northwestern University cardiology fellow and the study’s lead author, said the ability to quantify how much risk factors affect the life span gives physicians a powerful message to bring to patients. “You really want to prevent or delay the onset of these risk factors for as long as possible,” Ahmad said in a statement released by the ACC.

Heart failure means the heart cannot pump enough blood for the body to function properly. Once the condition is diagnosed, other health problems can multiply; patients can experience organ failure, fatigue, swelling, coughing and wheezing. According to the ACC, about half of patients with heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis.

To calculate how the onset of risk factors affected the life span, researchers pooled results from 4 large studies with a total of 18,280 patients over 40 years: the Framingham Heart, Framingham Offspring, Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry, and Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities studies. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease at baseline.

The researchers were able to identify 1449 heart-failure events over 471,988 person years of follow-up. Men and women without hypertension, obesity, or diabetes mellitus lived on average 35.3 and 37.0 years without heart failure, respectively.

Compared to those study subjects with no risk factors, those with hypertension, obesity, and or diabetes mellitus at baseline had fewer years of heart-failure survival: 3 to 11 years. Men and women without hypertension, obesity, or diabetes mellitus at age 45 years lived on average 11.3 to 12.7 years longer free of hypertension than those with all 3 risk factors.

Besides giving physicians powerful information for patients, Dr Ahmad said the results would help policymakers and public health officials predict future heart failure prevalence as the nation’s population ages. According to the CDC, 5 million people have the disease, which costs the nation an estimated $32 billion annually in health care services, medication and missed days of work.