Calculating Heart Disease Risk

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High cholesterol is just one of several factors – though an important one – in assessing heart disease risk. High cholesterol is dangerous when it exists along with other heart disease risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease. There are many online resources that explain how cholesterol affects heart disease risk, and you can even calculate your own personal heart disease risk (to discuss with your doctor) in a few simple steps.

High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need To Know

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has compiled a broad, very useful cholesterol education page with links aimed at individuals, doctors, those with high cholesterol, and other groups. Included on this page are links that range from a description of high cholesterol, to heart healthy recipes and a guide to lowering cholesterol with lifestyle changes. Link: National Cholesterol Education Program

How The Online Heart Disease Risk Calculators Work

There are several heart disease risk calculators available online. Before using them, it’s important to know how they work, and the National Cholesterol Education Program’s “High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need To Know” article is not only a terrific overview about cholesterol, it also walks you through the actual calculations. The online calculators use the Framingham risk score, which assesses heart disease risk in the next ten years based on six pieces of information: age, sex, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, smoking status and systolic blood pressure.

Mayo Clinic Heart Disease Calculator

The American College of Cardiology published the ASCVD Risk Estimator which is a very easy-to-use heart disease risk calculator. This calculator uses the Framingham Risk Score, and enables you to print the results to discuss with your doctor. Note that you need to know your blood pressure along with Total Cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol to use with this or any of the risk calculators.

American Heart Association Heart Disease Risk Calculator

The American Heart Association explains that the following “controllable risk factors affect your risk of heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome: smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity.” As with the other online calculators, theirs assesses your risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease in the next ten years. The AHA calculator, however, asks for more information than the ASCVD calculator, has a lot more graphic information and enables you to save and track your individual test results. Link: American Heart Association Heart Attack Risk Assessment

Reynolds Risk Score

The Framingham risk score has been used for many years to estimate a person’s chance of having a heart attack in the next ten years, and is the basis of these online calculators. The Reynolds risk score uses the Framingham risk score plus two other factors to get at a more finely honed level of risk assessment. In addition to the factors above, the Reynolds Risk Score test asks for C-reactive protein test results (which are not included in a typical lipid panel) and whether a parent had a heart attack before age 60. You might end up with the same risk assessment as the Framingham Risk Score, but if you are at high risk for heart disease, you may want to ask your doctor about C-reactive protein and the Reynolds Risk Score. Link: Reynolds Risk Score Calculator


Understanding how cholesterol factors into heart disease risk is important. There are several calculators doctors use to assess the risk of having a heart attack in the next ten years, and these tests are available free online to anyone who knows their Total Cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Trying one of these easy-to-use online calculators so you know your overall risk can be useful in talking to your doctor about a cholesterol-lowering program that is right for you.

Did you Know?

Did you know that if the only heart disease risk factor you have is high cholesterol, you may not need cholesterol-lowering statin medication? It’s high cholesterol plus other risk factors that usually indicates the need for statins.


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