Background: Risk factors such as blood pressure and serum cholesterol are used, with age, in screening for future cardiovascular disease (CVD) events. The value of using these risk factors with age compared with using age alone is not known. We compared screening for future CVD events using age alone with screening using age and multiple risk factors based on regular Framingham risk assessments.
Methods: Ten-year CVD risk was estimated using Framingham risk equations in a hypothetical sample population of 500,000 people aged 0-89 years. Risk estimates were used to identify individuals who did and did not have a CVD event over a ten-year period. For screening using age alone (age screening) and screening using multiple risk factors and age (Framingham screening) we estimated the (i) detection rate (sensitivity); (ii) false-positive rate; (iii) proportion of CVD-free years of life lost in affected individuals with positive results (person-years detection rate); and (iv) cost per CVD-free life year gained from preventive treatment.
Results: Age screening using a cut-off of 55 years detected 86% of all first CVD events arising in the population every year and 72% of CVD-free years of life lost for a 24% false-positive rate; for five yearly Framingham screening the false-positive rate was 21% for the same 86% detection rate. The estimated cost per CVD-free year of life gained was £2,000 for age screening and £2,200 for Framingham screening if a Framingham screen costs £150 and the annual cost of preventive treatment is £200.
Conclusion: Age screening for future CVD events is simpler than Framingham screening with a similar screening performance and cost-effectiveness. It avoids blood tests and medical examinations. The advantages of age screening in the prevention of heart attack and stroke warrant considering its use in preference to multiple risk factor screening.