These 3 risk factors nearly double your chance of heart failure, study finds

About 5.7 million US adults have heart failure

Avoiding diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure in middle age significantly reduces the chance of heart failure, according to a new study published in JACC: Heart Failure.

While the long-term consequences of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure are well established, the new study attempts to quantify the benefits of avoiding these high-risk conditions. According to CDC, about 5.7 million U.S. adults have heart failure—with about 50 percent of patients dying within 5 years of their diagnosis.

Details of the study

For the study, researchers tracked more than 19,000 men and women who were enrolled in four long-term studies: the Framingham Heart, Framingham Offspring, Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry, and ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities) studies. The studies tracked whether their participants had diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure at middle age. The researchers then calculated the association between those risk factors and heart failure, heart-failure free survival, and overall survival through age 95.

At age 45, about 53 percent of participants did not have diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure. And at age 55, about 44 percent of participants were free of all three risk factors. 

Men and women with no risk factors at age 45 had between a 73 percent to 85 percent lower risk of heart failure compared with people with all three risk factors. And participants with no risk factors lived on average 3 to 15 years longer without experiencing heart failure compared with people with one or more risk factors.

Diabetes in middle age was most associated with heart-failure risk. People without diabetes at age 45 lived on average between 8.6 and 10.6 years longer without experiencing heart failure.

The researchers found similar trends among study participants assessed at age 55.

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Study author John Wilkins, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said the study reinforces the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle. "These findings help reframe the heart failure prevention discussion by quantifying how the prevention of the development of these risk factors can lengthen healthy and overall survival and could vastly reduce the population burden of heart failure," he said.

Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles who was not involved in the study, said the study also showcased the value of prevention. "While there are therapies available once heart failure develops, the most effective strategy is to prevent heart failure in the first place," he explained.

Meanwhile, other experts noted that practicing healthy behaviors can be a heavy lift for some people. Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said, "We need to make some pretty intense changes to our eating habits and physical activity" (Mozes, HealthDay News/UPI, 11/28; Ross, "On Call," STAT News, 11/29; Spencer, Daily Mail, 11/28; Ahmad et al., JACC Heart Failure, December 2016; American College of Cardiology release, 11/28).

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