Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Kiwi heart-risk tool leads world

Rod Jackson and his team are proud of their work. Photo / Supplied
Rod Jackson and his team are proud of their work. Photo / Supplied

Kiwi scientists have developed a world-leading tool to accurately predict the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The unique Auckland University-developed tool is expected to dramatically reduce a patient's risk of heart attack and stroke because doctors can target their exact risk level with the most fitting diet, exercise or drugs.

The tool, which uses the data of more than half a million New Zealand patients from 14 years of research, is expected to be available next year.

The study is headed by Professor Rod Jackson, at the university's School of Population Health, who says the risk-prediction tool takes into account factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, cholesterol levels, family history and whether the patient smokes or has diabetes.

"You could have a number of people with exactly the same blood pressure but because of their other risk factors, they could have very different risks," the professor said.

The epidemiology and clinical expert previously led the development of the world's first national guidelines based on predicted cardiovascular risk.

"New Zealand was the first country to recommend that GPs use a risk-prediction tool to take account of a patient's combined risk factor status before making treatment decisions," he said.

"Your predicted risk is a better way of determining how well treatment will work for you than just focusing on a single risk factor like blood pressure or blood cholesterol."

Treatment could include reduced alcohol or salt consumption, exercise, or long-term preventative drugs.

"Everyone gets treated but how aggressively depends on that risk."

The database has information on a staggering number of Kiwis including more than 57,000 Maori, 55,000 Pacific people, 35,000 South Asians and 25,000 Chinese.

Once in use the database will replace a 1970s American tool no longer relevant to 21st century New Zealand.

"We always wanted to develop New Zealand risk predictors for New Zealand people."

Professor Jackson said it was the most comprehensive and high quality data in the world, and the new risk-prediction equations should be relevant to all other developed nations.

Although a patient's NHI (National Health Index) number allows data to be linked from multiple sources, the database is anonymous thanks to military-strength encryption.

The research has the backing of the Health Research Council which this week added a $5 million grant for continuation of the work to previous investments it made in 2002, 2006 and 2011.

Other key supporters are the Heart Foundation, Ministry of Health, primary health organisations and district health boards.

Professor Jackson said he and his team were very proud of the work which would be put into practice once it was fully endorsed.

- NZ Herald

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