The NHLBI calculator requires seven pieces of information: your age, gender, total cholesterol level, HDL cholesterol level, systolic blood pressure (the larger, “top” number of a blood pressure reading) and whether you currently smoke or take medication for high blood pressure.
(Some other versions of the calculator focus on risk of developing heart disease – rather than a heart attack – and use slightly different information.)
One potential problem with the Framingham Heart Study and the calculator: The original study participants were overwhelmingly white. Since race and ethnicity factor in to heart disease risk, though, that could be a problem. The NHLBI website argues that the risk factors identified through the Framingham Heart Study “have been shown in other studies to apply almost universally among racial and ethnic groups.”
Nonetheless, there are stubborn racial differences in heart disease. For instance, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health observes that “African-American men are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white males.” Yet African Americans actually have a lower rate of heart disease than whites (10% vs. 12%).
Researchers at the University of Bristol (UK) have developed a heart disease calculator specifically for Britain’s black and minority groups.
Last but not least, remember that you need to be more than an odds-maker for your own heart. The next, crucial step on your path to a heart-healthy future involves taking action to reduce your risk by using the numbers to make healthy lifestyle choices and medical decisions.