Imagine an online tool that takes into account your age, weight, gender, race, and other specific factors to calculate a personalized risk score that indicates your likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Now available online, such a calculator exists! Developed by a pair of researchers from the University of Virginia and the University of Florida, with a doctor’s help you can now put a number on your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
Mark DeBoer, MD is one of the creators of the online metabolic risk calculator. He describes the results a person gleans from the tool as like a conversation between patient and doctor: “On the risk spectrum, you are here, and you're in a position where we're worried you're going to have a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years.”
The online tool builds off of traditional predictive tactics that focus primarily on obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting triglycerides, low HDL, high fasting blood sugar. A conventional risk calculation involves a diagnosis of “metabolic syndrome” when someone has “abnormalities” in at least three of these factors, suggesting that the patient either make a lifestyle change or expect heart disease of some sort down the line.
While somewhat effective, this approach ignores the fact that while some individuals might not have abnormally high levels in at least three risk areas, they might have nearly-abnormal levels of more than three risk areas, putting them at just as much of a risk as others. "As is true in most processes in life, the reality is that this risk exists on a spectrum," DeBoer explained.
The current approach also omits several social factors, but DeBoer’s new technology factors in traditional risk factors and as well as race, ethnicity, and gender, producing a “metabolic severity score” accessible to both the doctor, who can make recommendations, and the patient, who can consider various lifestyle changes in their diet and physical exercise habits.
“The more specific information you can give to individuals at risk, the more they will understand it and be motivated to make some changes,” DeBoer said. The current edition of the online metabolic risk calculator can be found here.
DeBoer and co-creator Matthew Gurka, PhD, from the University of Florida hope to incorporate the new technology in electronic medical records, where it could be used to calculate a patient’s risk. The score could then be transferred to the physician, who takes the score into account when making treatment plans, and the patient, who can begin to take preventative steps toward protecting their future from heart disease.