The majority of Americans will have a major cardiovascular event before they die. Perhaps, if each of us had a clearer sense of how much at risk we were for a heart attack, we'd take the steps to help our hearts while there was still time.

That's the thinking behind a new risk calculator developed by a group of British researchers. They want people to feel more invested in taking care of their hearts early in life, when it can really make a difference.

‘You, sir, are 45, but your risk factor levels give you the average risk of a 64-year-old!’ can be a powerful message.

The Joint British Societies (JBS3) risk calculator not only calculates a person’s short-term (within the next decade) risk of developing heart disease, it determines a person’s lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke.

The calculations are based on well-established risk factors. In fact, the British panel's recommendations are remarkably similar to those of the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association, Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair and professor of preventive medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, told TheDoctor.

And Dr. Lloyd-Jones added that when two groups of experts come to very similar conclusions, it creates a lot of confidence that CVD and stroke prevention is headed in the right direction.

The value of the calculator is that makes people more aware that they are in charge of their heart health and emphasizes the importance of lifestyle changes in reducing CVD and stroke risk.

The first lifestyle chdange is to start with healthier eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean, or DASH diets.

These diets emphasize eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins like fish, and minimizing sodium intake. And work best when partnered with more physical activity, according to Lloyd-Jones.

For some people, lifestyle changes are not enough. For example, those with one elevated risk factor, such as very high blood pressure, need to do a lot of work to reduce their risk, and that can include medication.

Reducing Your Risk
The most important thing people can do to reduce their risk of CVD is to understand what they can do to live a healthier lifestyle, says Lloyd-Jones. The calculator helps make the level of cardiovascular risk more concrete.

“ ‘You, sir, are 45, but your risk factor levels give you the average risk of a 64 year old!’ can be a powerful message,” Lloyd-Jones said. People need to know what their cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels are and understand how those numbers contribute to their risk of heart attack and stroke, he adds.

The article is published in the journal Heart. The risk calculator can be accessed here.