Cardiovascular disease is a major, growing, worldwide problem. It is important that individuals at risk of developing cardiovascular disease can be effectively identified and appropriately stratified according to risk. This review examines what we understand by the term risk, traditional and novel risk factors, clinical scoring systems, and the use of risk for informing prescribing decisions. Many different cardiovascular risk factors have been identified. Established, traditional factors such as ageing are powerful predictors of adverse outcome, and in the case of hypertension and dyslipidaemia are the major targets for therapeutic intervention. Numerous novel biomarkers have also been described, such as inflammatory and genetic markers. These have yet to be shown to be of value in improving risk prediction, but may represent potential therapeutic targets and facilitate more targeted use of existing therapies. Risk factors have been incorporated into several cardiovascular disease prediction algorithms, such as the Framingham equation, SCORE and QRISK. These have relatively poor predictive power, and uncertainties remain with regards to aspects such as choice of equation, different risk thresholds and the roles of relative risk, lifetime risk and reversible factors in identifying and treating at-risk individuals. Nonetheless, such scores provide objective and transparent means of quantifying risk and their integration into therapeutic guidelines enables equitable and cost-effective distribution of health service resources and improves the consistency and quality of clinical decision making.
© 2012 The Author. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology © 2012 The British Pharmacological Society.