Heart Age Calculator FAQs
What is a Heart Age?
The Heart Age Calculator helps people understand their risk of a heart attack or stroke by determining their heart age. Heart age is an assessment of well-known risk factors for heart disease (e.g. age, sex, blood pressure, cholesterol) to estimate an individual’s risk of heart attack or stroke compared to a defined healthy range. A heart age that is older than current age indicates elevated modifiable risk.
Who should use the Heart Age Calculator?
The Heart Age Calculator is designed for people aged 35 to 75 years who do not have heart disease or have not previously had a heart attack or stroke.
Which risk factors are used to calculate my heart age?
Your heart age is calculated on key risk factors for heart disease – age, sex, smoking and diabetes status, Body Mass Index (BMI), cholesterol levels, blood pressure and any medication to control it and whether or not you have a close family history of heart attack or stroke prior to age 60. If you do not know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels the Heart Age Calculator will use Australian average levels based on your age and sex.
How is my heart age calculated?
Using the information you enter about your key risk factors, the calculator estimates your risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years compared with the risk of someone at the same age with risk factors within the healthy range. So, if you get a heart age of 52 years, this means that the values entered into the calculator indicate you have the same risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years as someone 52 years of age.
The Heart Age Calculator uses an algorithm to calculate the probability of a cardiovascular event occurring in the next five years based on your risk factors. The algorithm is based on a multivariate known as the Framingham Risk Function, a predictive equation developed using data from the Framingham Heart Study and incorporates Australian guidelines for people who are at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Why are some risk factors missing from the calculation?
The Heart Age Calculator does not consider a person’s ethnicity, other heart conditions (like abnormal heart rhythms) or information about nutrition and physical activity status. Whilst these are still important risk factors for heart disease, they were not incorporated into the heart age calculation because there is insufficient data from the Framingham Heart Study to be able to estimate impact on risk. These risk factors will be considered by your doctor during a Heart Health check and addressing them can help reduce your risk of heart disease as well as help control risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol.
What if I don’t know my blood pressure of cholesterol results?
If you do not know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels the Heart Age Calculator will use Australian average levels based on your age and sex.
Does an elevated heart age mean I should start medication?
A heart age higher than your actual age indicates higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke, it does not indicate the need to start medication. The Heart Age Calculator is a motivational tool to raise awareness about heart disease risks and to prompt people to take action by having a Heart Health check with their doctor. The Heart Age Calculator is not a clinical tool and does not replace the need to see your doctor for a comprehensive Heart Health check.
Why has the Heart Foundation launched a Heart Age Calculator?
Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians. More than one in five Australians aged 45 to 75 have a moderate to high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. Close to 40% of Australians aged 18 and over have three or more risk factors. The Heart Age Calculator is a motivational tool to help people better understand their risk of heart attack or stroke and prompt them to take action by having a Heart Health check.
What is a Heart Health Check?
A Heart Health Check (absolute CVD risk assessment) is performed by a doctor. A Heart Health Check will mean your doctor can determine whether you have a low, moderate or high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.
As part of a Heart Health Check, your doctor will:
- take blood tests (for your blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels)
- check your blood pressure
- ask about your immediate family’s heart health history (your parents and siblings)
- take into account other conditions you may have, such as kidney disease or arrhythmias
- ask about your lifestyle behaviours, about your diet, whether you smoke, how active you are, and
- assess your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.
Depending on your result, your doctor may discuss some lifestyle changes such as improving your diet, exercising more or quitting smoking. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to control high blood pressure or high cholesterol to reduce your risk. Or advise further tests to screen for diabetes. They will also advise when you are due for your next Heart Health Check.
I am younger than 35 or older than 75 years, why can’t I use the calculator?
This tool is designed for people aged 35 to 75 years who have not had a heart event previously or have heart disease.
The Heart Age Calculator is based on data from a large population study known as the Framingham Heart Study which did not include people younger than 30 years, so it is difficult to estimate risk for this group. If you are under 35 years, it is still important for you to be aware of risk factors for heart disease.
Similarly, people aged over 75 years were not included in the Framingham Heart Study, so it is difficult to estimate risk in this group using the existing algorithm. An individualised Heart Health Check by a doctor is most appropriate to estimate risk of heart attack or stroke in people aged over 75 years.
I have heart disease, why can’t I use the calculator?
If you have heart disease, or previously have had a heart attack or stroke, we recommend you discuss with your doctor how to best manage your heart condition. If you have had a heart attack, you can find out more information about your condition and what you can do to reduce your risk of subsequent cardiac events here.
Why is it important to know if an immediate family member has a history of heart attack or stroke prior to age 60?
If any of your immediate family members (a parent, brother or sister) had a heart attack, stroke or were diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 60, you have a ‘family history of premature heart disease’. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke. This is because genes can pass on risk of heart disease and they can also be responsible for passing on other conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. There is no single gene that increases your risk of heart disease, but its likely that there are several involved in elevating risk.
Where can I find more information?
You can learn more about risk factors for heart attacks or strokes and how some of them can be changed here.
If you would like to speak to someone about your results, the Heart Foundation Helpline provides free personalised information and support on heart health, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. You can call our Helpline on 13 11 12 to speak to a health professional about your heart health or the Heart Age Calculator.