About 90% of American adults are on the path to heart disease, research shows

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Nine out of 10 American adults are in the early, middle or late stages of a syndrome that leads to heart disease, a new report shows, and nearly 10% already have the disease.

“Poor cardiovascular, renal, and metabolic health is widespread in the US population,” concludes a team led by Dr. Muthiah Vaduganathan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Researchers specifically looked at rates of what the American Heart Association has called cardiovascular, renal and metabolic (CKM) syndrome: interrelated factors that increase over time and, if left unchecked, lead to heart disease.

CKM syndrome is divided into four phases:

  • Phase 1: Excessive fat accumulation in the body (a risk factor for poor health)
  • Phase 2: Emergence of other metabolic risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes)
  • Phase 3: Emergence of high-risk kidney diseases and/or high predicted risk of heart disease diagnosis within the next 10 years
  • Stage 4: A diagnosis of full-blown heart disease, with or without kidney disease

To find out how many Americans might fall into one of these four categories, the Boston team tracked U.S. federal health survey data for the period 2011 through 2020.

Among adults aged 20 or older, only 10.6% did not have some degree of CKM syndrome, the researchers said reported May 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About 26% fell into the early phase 1 category, meaning they reached dangerous levels of body fat. Nearly half (49%) of adults had stage 2 CVM syndrome and 5.4% had stage 3.

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According to the study, 9.2% of adults were in stage 4, with full-blown heart disease and, in some cases, failing kidneys.

All of these figures remained approximately unchanged over the nine-year study period.

Not surprisingly, the severity of CKM syndrome increased with age: 55.3% of people aged 65 years or older were in advanced stages of CKM syndrome, compared to 10.7% of people between 45 and 64 years and 2.1% of people aged 20 to 44. study found.

The young people were also at risk. Most Americans ages 20 to 44 (81.8%) were already affected by these heart and kidney risk factors, Vaduganathan’s team noted.

Race also mattered: Black Americans were 38% more likely to suffer from CKM syndrome than whites.

The bottom line: “Nearly 90% of US adults met criteria for CKM syndrome (stage 1 or higher) and 15% met criteria for advanced stages, and neither improved between 2011 and 2020,” according to the Boston researchers.

More information:
Rahul Aggarwal et al, Prevalence of stages of cardiovascular-renal metabolic syndrome in US adults, 2011-2020, JAMA (2024). DOI: 10.1001/jama.2024.6892

Read more about CKM syndrome on the American Heart Association.

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