How Does My Risk For Heart Disease Change As I Get Older?

Dr. Harlan Krumholz answers the question: 'How Does Risk Change With Age?'

ByABC News
November 7, 2008, 1:27 PM

— -- Question: How does my risk for heart disease change as I get older?

Answer: Our risk of heart disease increases every day as we age. The older you are, the higher your risk. As we get older, our arteries get stiffer. They get a little bit thicker. Our risk for higher blood pressure -- and for all the sorts of things that can happen with heart disease --increase. About 80 percent of the people who are 65 years and older have some form of heart disease. Sometimes it's apparent as someone who's actually had something that's caused them to see a doctor. Sometimes it's only apparent if we do special imaging tests or be able to look at their arteries directly.

Now, even though this is so strongly associated with age, and when you're older, you have a much higher risk, it clearly does happen to younger individuals, and so, even if you're as young as 40 or 45 or even younger, particularly if you have risk factors -- if you smoke, if you have a strong family history, if you have diabetes, for example, if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure -- then you are at high risk, and in fact, your risk may be similar to someone who may be as much as ten years older. So younger people get heart disease, we know that, but also particularly if they have these risk factors. Women, a little less, but in the post-menopausal years, it starts to accelerate back more, but for everyone, as we get older, we have to be very vigilant about these risk factors and reduce our risk because we're at a greater risk of heart disease.

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