Healthy Living in Middle Age Keeps Heart Failure at Bay Decades Later

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THURSDAY, March 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Are you in your mid-40s and slim, without high blood pressure or diabetes? If so, you may already be winning the war against heart failure in your senior years, new research suggests.

The study, led by cardiologist Dr. Faraz Ahmad of Northwestern University in Chicago, found that being free of those heart disease risk factors in middle age greatly extended the number of years a person lived without heart failure.

His team looked at data on more than 18,000 people tracked over 40 years. The researchers found that people who were obese and had high blood pressure and diabetes by age 45 were diagnosed with heart failure an average of 11 to 13 years sooner than those who had none of the three risk factors.

The average age of heart failure diagnosis was 80 for men and 82 for women who had none of the risk factors at age 45, compared with the late 60s and early 70s for those who did have the risk factors at age 45.

Even having one or two of the three risk factors reduced the years a person lived without heart failure, the researchers found. People who had one or two of the risk factors developed heart failure an average of three to 11 years earlier than those with none of the risk factors, Ahmad's team said.

"The message from this study is that you really want to prevent or delay the onset of these risk factors for as long as possible. Doing so can significantly increase the number of years you are likely to live free of heart failure," Ahmad said.

The study is to be presented March 14 at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in San Diego. Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

According to Ahmad, the findings could help patients better understand the importance of avoiding major risk factors for heart failure, he suggested.

"In the clinic, we often give patients metrics of risk that are relative and abstract," Ahmad said. "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."

Heart failure affects more than 5 million people in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition impacts the health not only of the heart, but of other organs. Symptoms include fatigue, swelling and chronic cough and/or wheezing, and the CDC says that half of people with heart failure die within five years of their diagnosis.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about heart failure.