Free Online Tool Gauges Heart Attack Risk

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Senior suffering a heart attack or chest pain
Africa Studio /

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and 85% of those deaths are due to a heart attack or stroke.

In the United States alone, about 800,000 people have a heart attack every year, with 600,000 of those being first heart attacks.

Fortunately, scientists have discovered a way to estimate the risk of someone having their first heart attack in the next six months using basic blood test results and physical traits.

Their findings were published recently in the scientific journal Nature Cardiovascular Research.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Johan Sundström of Uppsala University in Sweden set out to test a hypothesis: Certain biological markers, or biomarkers, circulate in the blood in the months leading up to a heart attack.

In a summary of the findings, Sundström, a cardiologist and professor, explains:

“[W]e know that the time just before a heart attack is very dynamic. For example, the risk of a heart attack doubles during the month after a divorce, and the risk of a fatal heart event is five times as high during the week after a cancer diagnosis.”

The researchers tested blood from 420 people in Europe who had suffered their first heart attack in the past six months but did not previously have cardiovascular disease.

For comparison, they also tested blood from about 1,600 Europeans who had never had a heart attack and did not otherwise have cardiovascular disease.

The researchers identified dozens of molecules — 48 proteins and 43 metabolites — that are associated with an imminent first heart attack.

A protein called brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) was most consistently associated with an imminent first heart attack.

You don’t have to run out and get a special blood test for BNP to gauge your risk of a heart attack, though.

The researchers also discovered that a combination of certain basic blood test results and physical characteristics like age and sex can be used to estimate a person’s risk of an imminent first heart attack.

Then, they developed a free online tool that enables anyone to estimate risk. Sundström says:

“This was one of the aims of the entire study, since we know that people feel relatively low motivation to follow preventive treatments. If you find out that you happen to have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack soon, perhaps you will feel more motivated to prevent it.”

Next, the Uppsala University researchers plan to study whether the online tool indeed motivates people. They will also study the biomarkers associated with heart attack in hopes of finding treatments.

Meanwhile, they note that the online tool is imperfect.

First, the tool estimates your risk based on data on people with similar risk factors. It does not predict your future.

Second, the tool was developed using data on mostly middle-aged Europeans. So researchers don’t know if it’s as accurate for people of other ages, races or ethnicities.

Imminent myocardial infarction prediction model

The free tool is available at, but you’ll need to gather some information before you can use it.

It asks for the following:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Male
  • Whether you have any form of diabetes
  • Education level
  • Height (in centimeters)
  • Waist (in centimeters)
  • LDL cholesterol, or LDL-C (in mmol/L)
  • HDL cholesterol, or HDL-C (in mmol/L)
  • Smoking status

Most of these answers you’ll know offhand, of course. But if you’re in the U.S., convert your height and waist measurements from inches to centimeters before entering them into the tool.

For your LDL and HDL cholesterol, pull out your copies of your blood work results or ask your health care provider’s office. Either way, note the unit of measurement, not just the numbers.

For example, if you’re in the U.S., your cholesterol levels are probably measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). If that’s the case, you’ll have to convert them to millimoles per liter (mmol/L) before entering them into the tool. You’ll find conversion calculators like this one online that can do the math for you.

To better understand your risk of another heart problem, sudden cardiac arrest, check out “3 Telltale Signs of Imminent Heart Trouble.”

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