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A calculator for fewer heart attacks

It’s a fact: the risk of heart attack or cardiovascular accident increases as we get older. Fortunately, there are ways to curb the threat. For example, a patient at high risk of suffering a heart attack in the next decade may be prescribed statins, which lower cholesterol. To calculate the risk of heart attack, physicians look at an individual’s cholesterol level, blood pressure and especially age.

Patients under the age of fifty are nearly always categorized as low risk even when they have high cholesterol.

But the problem is that patients under the age of fifty are nearly always categorized as low risk even when they have high cholesterol—the main risk factor for heart disease. George Thanassoulis, researcher at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), and his collaborators in the United States discovered that these patients would benefit considerably from early treatment. The experts suggest a new approach to prescribing statins.

Dr. Thanassoulis and his partners analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a study conducted from 2005 to 2010 of 71.8 million Americans likely to need statins. Based on a personalized approach that gave less weight to age, the researchers identified 9.5 million Americans at low risk of heart attack who would benefit from statin treatment just as much as or more than individuals considered to be at high risk. Prescribing statins to the group of younger patients with high levels of bad cholesterol could prevent 266 000 additional heart attacks and strokes in a ten-year period.

The researchers therefore modified the heart attack risk calculator by adding parameters such as the level of bad cholesterol and the positive effects of statins. Dr. Thanassoulis is currently working on a Web portal project to facilitate the use of the tool, which can determine not only the risk of heart attack but also the benefits of treatment.