News | January 14, 2010

Determining Vascular Age Helps Predict Cardiac, Vascular Problems

January 13, 2010 – The January issue of the Harvard Heart Letter says assessing a patient’s “artery age” can help predict the person’s chances for vascular diseases, including heart disease. The article also offers a survey to help judge artery age.

The article says arteries age more slowly with daily exercise, a healthy diet, and good relationships with family and friends. They age faster when assaulted by smoking, when a person has a poor diet laden with saturated and trans fats, suffers from chronic stress, and other traumas. Knowing a patient’s vascular age offers a clearer picture of a person’s heart health.

Two currently available tools estimate artery "age" using pulse wave velocity and carotid intima-media thickness. Measurement of these physical variables in thousands of people has allowed researchers to identify ranges for each that correspond to different chronological ages. A third tool, the Framingham score, relies on generally available information on age, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

Pulse wave velocity examines the waves of blood through the body's network of arteries. The stiffer the arteries, the faster this wave travels. Measuring the speed of the pulse wave provides information about how stiff or how flexible the arteries are. The speed of the wave can be converted into vascular age. Several companies make devices that measure pulse wave velocity in a doctor's office or at home using a sensor that clips onto a finger.

Carotid intima-media thickness measures examine the vessel intima and the media. Using ultrasound. Measuring the intima-media thickness in the carotid arteries in the neck can help estimate vascular age.

The Framingham score is based on the landmark Framingham Heart Study. Data accumulated in the study have helped researchers create a general cardiovascular risk profile that uses survey questions.

For more information: www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Heart_Letter/2010/January/how-old-are-your-arteries

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