For the first time, scientists have quantified how many heart failure-free years you add to your life when you avoid risky habits that harm your body and contribute to chronic illness.
A study released today says that on average, people who are diagnosed with obesity, hypertension and diabetes can expect to be diagnosed with heart failure 11 to 13 years earlier than people who have none of those chronic illnesses. The study is scheduled to be presented before the American College of Cardiology later this month.
These stark numbers allow doctors to address more directly the risks their patients face if they do not practice a healthy lifestyle, said Faraz Ahmad, the lead author of the study and a cardiology fellow at Northwestern University.
“In the clinic, we often give patients metrics of risk that are relative and abstract,” Ahmad said in a released statement. “It’s a much more powerful message, when you’re talking to patients in their 30s or 40s, to say that they will be able to live 11 to 13 years longer without heart failure if they can avoid developing these three risk factors now.”
In the study, people with obesity, hypertension and diabetes, on average, were diagnosed with heart failure by the time they reached their late 60s or early 70s. Men with none of these risk factors were diagnosed with heart failure at age 80, and women received that diagnosis by age 82, according to the study.
Although researchers have made advances about treating heart disease over the last four decades, the pattern of heart failure diagnosis does not change, Ahmad said.
When someone experiences heart failure, that means their heart is so weak that it can no longer pump enough blood to the body’s organs.
Nationwide, more than five million people have heart failure, a condition that annually costs the health care system about $32 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Roughly one out of every two people who are diagnosed with heart failure die within five years, the CDC reported.
Habits that enhance the risk of heart failure include smoking tobacco, eating foods rich with fat, cholesterol or sodium and living a sedentary lifestyle without physical exercise, the CDC says.