Scientists develop new tool to detect heart disease

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The Global Health Challenge of Heart Disease

Heart disease reigns as the top cause of death worldwide.

This reality has prompted researchers to understand and quantify the cumulative impact of various risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol, on the likelihood of a person suffering a heart attack or stroke.

University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers have responded to this challenge by developing a tool that predicts heart disease risk for people over 40.

The tool takes into account a person’s total exposure to heart disease risk factors over the years.

The Research Behind the Tool

This innovative risk prediction tool was developed using data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.

CARDIA followed about 5,000 healthy young adults from four U.S. cities for 30 years.

This rich data source allowed the UMSOM researchers to understand the additive effects of multiple risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the study’s findings indicated a 46 percent higher risk of developing heart disease for Black patients compared to White patients.

This discrepancy remained even when other risk factors were accounted for, such as family history, smoking habits, and college attendance.

Insights from the Study

Dr. Michael J. Domanski, the study’s lead author, highlighted the importance of risk reduction strategies.

He pointed out that the results suggested that self-identified Black racial status was a marker of underlying differences in the impact of risk factors.

These differences could be used to guide physicians in developing personalized prevention strategies and help public health policymakers assess the likely impact of proposed heart disease prevention programs.

The R Shiny App: A Practical Solution for Providers

To translate their research findings into a practical tool, the UMSOM team developed the R Shiny app.

This innovative tool allows medical providers to input cardiovascular risks, patient history, and patient race to determine individual risks and how best to address them.

The app can be used to estimate cardiovascular risks after age 40 based on the severity of risk factors earlier in adulthood.

A Significant Impact on Patient Health

The researchers believe this tool could have a significant impact on patient health.

By quantifying how much a patient’s risk would improve if they managed their cholesterol and hypertension, for instance, physicians can persuade patients to take necessary steps to lower their risk of heart attack or stroke.

This tool could be particularly beneficial in vulnerable populations, who have not been aggressively treated for cardiovascular risks in the past due to longstanding health inequities.

Looking Ahead: More Data, More Impact

During the two-decade follow-up period after age 40, 316 people in the study experienced their first cardiovascular event.

The availability of electronic medical records today makes it possible to develop tools like the R Shiny app, which uses innovative statistical data science approaches.

As these tools continue to evolve, researchers can gain deeper insights into complex health issues like cardiovascular disease and develop more accurate and personalized assessments of individual risk.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about supplements that could help prevent heart disease, stroke, and results showing that a year of committed exercise in middle age reversed worrisome heart failure.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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