NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Risky Behaviors Cause 90 Percent of Heart Attacks

August 20, 2003

Two sweeping studies released today appear to explode the long-held myth that half of heart attacks result from bad genes or bad luck. The studies, focusing on different populations totaling about half a million people, indicate that about 90 percent of people with severe heart disease have one or more of four classic risk factors: smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

That means the vast majority of the 650,000 new heart attacks each year could be prevented or delayed for decades by quitting smoking, reducing cholesterol and controlling hypertension and diabetes.

  • In the first study, researchers examined nearly 400,000 people who started three major lifestyle studies with healthy hearts and were then followed for up to 30 years.
  • They found that 87 percent to 100 percent of those who died of heart disease had one or more of the risk factors for heart disease.
  • The second study offered a cross-sectional snapshot of roughly 120,000 heart patients taking part in 14 clinical trials of heart disease drugs.
  • That study found that 85 percent of heart patients had one of the classic risk factors, and only 10 percent to 15 percent of younger patients -- men younger than 55 and women younger than 65 -- lacked any risk factors.

"If we could eliminate smoking and get people to be fit and trim, we could turn this thing around without unraveling the genes that cause heart disease," says researcher Eric Topol of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Source: Steve Sternberg, "Most heart attacks caused by an unhealthy lifestyle: Studies 'blow away' myth of bad genes," USA Today, August 20, 2003; Steve Sternberg, "The tell-tale heart studies," USA Today, August 20, 2003; based upon Philip Greenland, MD, et. al., "Major Risk Factors as Antecedents of Fatal and Nonfatal Coronary Heart Disease Events," August 20, 2003, Journal of the American Medical Association; Umesh N. Khot, MD, et. al., "Prevalence of Conventional Risk Factors in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease," Vol. 290 No. 7, August 20, 2003, Journal of the American Medical Association.

For Risk Factors study text

For Heart Patients study text


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