Heart disease prevention should be more focused on the long-term risks to patients, experts have suggested.
A study in the US found that while an individual may have a low chance of developing heart disease over the next five or 10 years, their lifetime risk could still be very high.
While certain factors such as age and gender are known to affect the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, the researchers said health professionals should concentrate more on risk factors that develop in younger and middle age.
Taking account of the risk factors already in place by the time patients are in their 40s could help to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, the authors added.
Study leader Dr Jarett Berry, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, said: “The current approach to heart disease prevention focuses on only short-term risks, which can give a false sense of security, particularly to individuals in their 40s and 50s.
“Early life decisions we make can have a significant impact on the rest of our lives - and heart healthy choices are no different. The risk factors we develop in younger and middle ages are going to determine our heart disease risk across our lifetime.”
The researchers believe that their study may have important implications for both clinical practice and public health policy.
Dr Berry said: “If we want to reduce cardiovascular disease, we need to prevent the development of risk factors in the first place.
“What determines your heart disease risk when you are 70 or 80 is what your risk factors are when you’re 40.”
- Jarett B, et al. Lifetime Risks of Cardiovascular Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine 2012; Advance online publication.