A recent explosion in the amount of cardiovascular risk and incipient, undetected subclinical cardiovascular pathology has swept across the globe. Nearly 70% of adult Americans are overweight or obese; the prevalence of visceral obesity stands at 53% and continues to rise. At any one time, 55% of the population is on a weight-loss diet, and almost all fail. Fewer than 15% of adults or children exercise sufficiently, and over 60% engage in no vigorous activity. Among adults, 11%-13% have diabetes, 34% have hypertension, 36% have prehypertension, 36% have prediabetes, 12% have both prediabetes and prehypertension, and 15% of the population with either diabetes, hypertension, or dyslipidemia are undiagnosed. About one-third of the adult population, and 80% of the obese, have fatty livers. With 34% of children overweight or obese, prevalence having doubled in just a few years, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and fatty livers in children are at their highest levels ever. Half of adults have at least one cardiovascular risk factor. Not even 1% of the population attains ideal cardiovascular health. Despite falling coronary death rates for decades, coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates in US women 35 to 54 years of age may now be increasing because of the obesity epidemic. Up to 65% of patients do not have their conventional risk biomarkers under control. Only 30% of high risk patients with CHD achieve aggressive low density lipoprotein (LDL) targets. Of those patients with multiple risk factors, fewer than 10% have all of them adequately controlled. Even when patients are titrated to evidence-based targets, about 70% of cardiac events remain unaddressed. Undertreatment is also common. About two-thirds of high risk primary care patients are not taking needed medications for dyslipidemia. Poor patient adherence, typically below 50%, adds further difficulty. Hence, after all such fractional reductions are multiplied, only a modest portion of total cardiovascular risk burden is actually being eliminated, and the full potential of risk reduction remains unrealized. Worldwide the situation is similar, with the prevalence of metabolic syndrome approaching 50%. Primordial prevention, resulting from healthful lifestyle habits that do not permit the appearance of risk factors, is the preferred method to lower cardiovascular risk. Lowering the prevalence of obesity is the most urgent matter, and is pleiotropic since it affects blood pressure, lipid profiles, glucose metabolism, inflammation, and atherothrombotic disease progression. Physical activity also improves several risk factors, with the additional potential to lower heart rate. Given the current obstacles, success of primordial prevention remains uncertain. At the same time, the consequences of delay and inaction will inevitably be disastrous, and the sense of urgency mounts. Since most CHD events arise in a large subpopulation of low- to moderate-risk individuals, identifying a high proportion of those who will go on to develop events with accuracy remains unlikely. Without a refinement in risk prediction, the current model of targeting high-risk individuals for aggressive therapy may not succeed alone, especially given the rising burden of risk. Estimating cardiovascular risk over a period of 10 years, using scoring systems such as Framingham or SCORE, continues to enjoy widespread use and is recommended for all adults. Limitations in the former have been of concern, including the under- or over-estimation of risk in specific populations, a relatively short 10-year risk horizon, focus on myocardial infarction and CHD death, and exclusion of family history. Classification errors may occur in up to 37% of individuals, particularly women and the young. Several different scoring systems are discussed in this review. The use of lifetime risk is an important conceptual advance, since ≥90% of young adults with a low 10-year risk have a lifetime risk of ≥39%; over half of all American adults have a low 10-year risk but a high lifetime risk. At age 50 the absence of traditional risk factors is associated with extremely low lifetime risk and significantly greater longevity. Pathological and epidemiological data confirm that atherosclerosis begins in early childhood, and advances seamlessly and inexorably throughout life. Risk factors in childhood are similar to those in adults, and track between stages of life. When indicated, aggressive treatment should begin at the earliest indication, and be continued for years. For those patients at intermediate risk according to global risk scores, C-reactive protein (CRP), coronary artery calcium (CAC), and carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) are available for further stratification. Using statins for primary prevention is recommended by guidelines, is prevalent, but remains underprescribed. Statin drugs are unrivaled, evidence-based, major weapons to lower cardiovascular risk. Even when low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) targets are attained, over half of patients continue to have disease progression and clinical events. This residual risk is of great concern, and multiple sources of remaining risk exist. Though clinical evidence is incomplete, altering or raising the blood high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) level continues to be pursued. Of all agents available, rosuvastatin produces the greatest reduction in LDL-C, LDL-P, and improvement in apoA-I/apoB, together with a favorable safety profile. Several recent proposals and methods to lower cardiovascular risk are reviewed. A combination of approaches, such as the addition of lifetime risk, refinement of risk prediction, guideline compliance, novel treatments, improvement in adherence, and primordial prevention, including environmental and social intervention, will be necessary to lower the present high risk burden.
Keywords: Bogalusa Heart Study; C-reactive protein; Framingham risk score; JUPITER study; LDL-P; Reynolds risk score; SCORE; advanced lipid testing; cardiovascular risk; carotid intima-media thickness; coronary artery calcification; coronary heart disease; diabetes; dysfunctional HDL; high-density lipoprotein; hypertension; inflammation; lifetime risk; low-density lipoprotein; metabolic syndrome; non-HDL-cholesterol; obesity; primary prevention; primordial prevention; rosuvastatin; statin drugs.