Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that more than 700,000 Americans suffer from heart attack each year, an event that puts them at risk of premature death and disability.

Knowing one's risks for cardiovascular problems could potentially lead to necessary lifestyle changes that could curb odds of suffering from potentially fatal medical events such as heart attack and stroke.

Thanks to a new tool developed by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), people can now check for their probability of suffering from heart disease online.

The new Healthy Heart Score cardiovascular health calculator allows people to estimate their risks of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) within 20 years given their lifestyle habits. The web based tool, which anyone can use for free, also offers tips on how to reduce one's odds of developing heart disease by adopting healthy habits.

"The Healthy Heart Score is all about modifiable lifestyle risks, which may increase awareness of CVD prevention through lifestyle interventions earlier in life, prior to the development of clinical risk factors," said Stephanie Chiuve, from the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.

Chiuve and colleagues developed the model by utilizing the health data of over 61,000 women who were part of the Nurses' Health Study and over 34,000 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The participants were not diagnosed of chronic disease at the start of the study and were monitored for up to 24 years, during which, 3,775 women developed CVD and 3,506 of the men developed the condition.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Nov. 14, shows the accuracy of the Healthy Heart Score in identifying individuals with high risks for cardiovascular disease.

"The Healthy Heart Score accurately identifies individuals at elevated risk for CVD and may serve as an important clinical and public health screening tool for the primordial prevention of CVD," the researchers wrote.

The free tool looks at diet and lifestyle factors that can affect a person's odds of developing heart disease in the next two decades and these include a person's weight, smoking, physical exercise, alcohol intake, consumption of fruits and vegetables, drinking of sugary beverages, consumption of whole grains and nuts as well as eating processed and red meat.

Making the most of the web-based cardiovascular health calculator may help reduce the odds of suffering from heart disease and even early death. The tool can be accessed here.

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