Heart attack is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide but with a new calculator launched by the National Health Service, people may now have an idea of when they are going to have a heart attack or stroke.

The NHS heart age calculator is an online tool that aims to predict the age of a person when he is likely to have a heart attack or stroke. By considering factors such as a person's height and weight, the tool can compare the person's actual age with his heart age. The calculator also needs information whether or not a person smokes to calculate his risks.

The calculator, a collaboration of the NHS choices, British Heart Foundation and Public Health England, likewise asks individuals to provide information on their medical history as well as their parents' medical history. They are also asked whether they have any immediate relative who has suffered from heart disease when they were under 60 years old.

The purpose of the tool is to encourage people to make healthier choices when it comes to diet, engaging in exercise and smoking to reduce their odds of suffering from heart disease. Doctors are encouraged to inform their patients about the online test to help them live healthier lives, but there were critics who questioned how effective the calculator will be.

Some experts have raised concerns about the accuracy of the calculator that will tell people they will suffer from stroke or heart attack one day, when many will not, raising fears that the tool could push and scare people into taking medications such as statins to lower their cholesterol levels.

Critics also pointed out that some individuals would be too afraid to be given a possibly negative prediction, particularly because of factors that are beyond their control such as having a family history of the disease.

Concerns over the calculator do not appear to be unfounded. A study that was released last month found that some of the most widely used risk calculators in the U.S exaggerated heart disease risks by more than half.

"It is important to help identify those at risk of heart disease, but I really hope this has been properly evaluated; we don't want to make the same mistakes we have seen in the U.S., where calculators enormously exaggerated the risks," said Aseem Malhotra, from Frimley Park Hospital.

Photo: Nicolas Raymond | Flickr 

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