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Half of Heart Disease Cases Linked to 5 Preventable Factors

In an extensive global review of research, scientists discovered specific modifiable risk factors that may contribute to over half of all cardiovascular disease diagnoses.

For the study, published on August 26 in The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists examined 112 cohort studies in 34 countries and eight geographical regions. From these studies, the team analyzed modifiable risk factors and the incidence of heart disease in 1,518,028 participants with an average age of 54.

Modifiable risk factors included body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure, non–high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, current smoking, and diabetes.

The scientists found that 57.2% of female and 52.6% of male 10-year incidences of heart disease and 20% of deaths from all causes in both sexes could be attributed to these five modifiable risk factors.

One specific risk factor — systolic blood pressure — contributed to cardiovascular disease incidences more than other factors. In addition, North America had the highest incidence of heart disease, while sub-Saharan Africa had the highest mortality rate. The study authors also note that across all regions, men had higher rates of cardiovascular disease than women.

Still, the associations between heart disease and four risk factors weakened as participants aged. BMI was the only factor that continued to contribute to heart disease and all-cause mortality throughout the lifespan.

What can a person do to prevent heart disease?

The risk factors examined in the study are modifiable — meaning a person can do specific things to change them. For example, reports suggest that not smoking, engaging in physical exercise, getting enough sleep, and maintaining blood sugar levels may reduce the risk of heart disease and increase longevity.

In addition, other research suggests eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and reasonable amounts of fish, unprocessed meats, and whole-fat dairy may lower cardiovascular disease risk.

Still, a person should consider discussing potential risk factors with a healthcare provider to develop an effective heart-healthy lifestyle modification plan, if needed.

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