(HealthDay News) — Being free of heart disease risk factors in middle age greatly extends the number of years a person lives without heart failure, according to research to be presented March 14 at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC), held from March 14 to 16 in San Diego.

Faraz Ahmad, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Northwestern University in Chicago, and colleagues looked at data for 18,820 people tracked over 40 years. The researchers found that people who were obese and had hypertension 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 1 or 2 of the 3 risk factors reduced the years a person lived without heart failure, the researchers found. People who had 1 or 2 of the risk factors developed heart failure an average of 3 to 11 years earlier than those with none of the risk factors.

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“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 in an ACC news release. 

According to Ahmad, the findings could help patients better understand the importance of avoiding major risk factors for heart failure. “In the clinic, we often give patients metrics of risk that are relative and abstract,” he 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 3 risk factors now.”


American College of Cardiology Press Release, March 2015