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Study confirms heart attack/stroke risk factors

January 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Health experts always tell us having high cholesterol or hypertension raises our risk for a heart attack. But now for the first time, doctors have 50 years of objective data that reveal what your lifetime risk is.

"If you don't take care of your modifiable risk factors, it's going to definitely impact your arteries," said Dr. Harry Balian, Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

A study of 257,000 people in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. By the time a person turns 80, researchers say the difference of having zero risk factors versus two was quite stunning.

In the study, men who were 55 with at least two risk factors were six times more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than men who didn't have the risk factors.

Women with at least two risk factors were three times as likely to die from a cardiovascular event than women who didn't have them.

"No matter you're woman or man, no matter what race and ethnicity, if you don't take care of your risk factors, they're going to catch up with you and later on you're going to a have a massive stroke or heart attack," said Balian.

The director of the cardiac cath lab at Glendale Adventist Medical Center says whether you're 40 or 70, it's never too late to get started.

Balian says he's seen plaque in the arteries disappear due to lifestyle changes.

"If I was thinking about smoking, I should not. If I'm thinking about having a cheeseburger, maybe I should make a U-turn and go and have a salad with chicken on it," said Balian.

Balian says the older you are the more aggressive your efforts will have to be. And keep in mind, a 45-year-old man with no risk factors had only a 1 percent chance of having a heart attack at age 80. Pretty good odds.