In an ideal world, you would be able to plug your vitals and health information into a database and receive personalized feedback not only about your current health but also about your future health.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what diseases you’re at risk of developing and what you could do to change course before it happens?

Although we don’t live in a world where this exact technology exists, we do have some pretty handy tools at our disposal. The ASCVD 10-year cholesterol risk test, for one, analyzes a few basic pieces of health information and estimates your risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event within the next 10 years of your life.

It’s not a perfect tool, but it’s valuable enough that organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend its use for healthcare professionals considering preventive treatment options.

So what’s the 10-year cholesterol risk test, and what can it tell you about your health? Here’s what you need to know.

ASCVD stands for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which is any heart disease caused by a thickening or hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup. People with ASCVD are more likely to experience cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes.

The ASCVD 10-year risk scale is based on an estimator tool created by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the AHA. By inputting your information into the estimator tool, you can calculate your overall risk of developing an ASCVD in the next 10 years and receive an overall score to help you assess where you are on the risk scale.

The tool uses the following health information to identify your risk:

  • sex
  • age
  • race
  • cholesterol and blood pressure levels

The tool also asks about your medical history, specifically if you:

Figure out your ASCVD risk

If you’re concerned about your cardiovascular health, the best course of action is to talk with your doctor about it.

They may use the ASCVD risk estimator to help get an idea of your overall health, but they’ll have the benefit of their education and experience to understand what the results of the calculator mean.

If you’d like to have a preliminary look at your estimated risk, you can access the ACC’s calculator here.

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Once you or your healthcare professional have entered your information into the estimator, you’ll receive a score placing you somewhere on the spectrum of possible risk.

A low score doesn’t guarantee that you won’t develop an ASCVD in the next 10 years, and a high score doesn’t guarantee that you will.

But the risk score can alert you to ongoing issues with your health that increase your chances of ASCVD — and can also prompt your healthcare professional to start you on preventive treatments sooner rather than later.

In general, if your risk score is lower than 5%, you’re not considered to be at any elevated risk of heart disease in the next 10 years. People with risk scores over 7.5% are typically candidates for preventive treatment.

Here’s how the AHA breaks down percentage scores and what it recommends for treatment based on those scores.

ScoreRisk assessmentTreatment or therapy
lower than 5%lowusually none
5% to lower than 7.5%borderlineconsidered for treatment with statin medications if you have other risk factors
7.5% to lower than 20%intermediatecandidate for treatment with moderate intensity statin therapy
20% or morehighcandidate for treatment with high intensity statin therapy

It’s tricky. The AHA recommends the use of a 10-year risk calculator to improve cardiovascular outcomes. Many experts feel the pros of using the test to identify patients eligible for statin therapy outweigh the cons of relying on a statistical tool to treat potentially at-risk patients.

That said, some studies have pointed out inaccuracies that are worth knowing about, at the very least.

  • A 2015 analysis noted that some assessment tools overestimated the risk for both men and women, while others overestimated only for men and underestimated for women.
  • Another study from 2014 also found that the estimator tools were regularly overestimating the risk, proposing that the tool may be inherently flawed because it was developed using data sets that are no longer current or relevant.

If you use the 10-year estimator tool and receive an intermediate or high score, it’s worth talking with your healthcare professional about your results. There’s a higher chance of elevated risk in these scenarios, and you may be a good candidate for statin therapy.

If you receive a borderline score, pay attention — but don’t panic. Again, these tools have been shown to overestimate risk. Being assessed as a borderline risk is valuable information to have, but a healthcare professional who knows your medical history will be able to provide more perspective on your actual risk.

Whatever your score (yes, even if it’s less than 5%), there are ways to lower your 10-year cholesterol risk and improve your heart health:

  • Take statin therapy: While not everyone is a candidate, many people undergoing statin therapy are able to use it safely and effectively, and it’s been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.
  • If you smoke, consider quitting: Smoking and tobacco use are major risk factors for heart disease. Smoking increases the amount of plaque in your arteries, among other health concerns. Ceasing smoking and tobacco use can reduce your risk.
  • Eat a balanced diet and exercise: Following a heart-healthy diet, managing your weight, and exercising can reduce your risk of ASCVD. It’s recommended that you get about 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week and 2 days a week of strength training.
  • Limit alcohol: Drinking raises your blood pressure and can affect your heart muscle, in addition to being a factor in excessive weight gain.
  • Manage your blood pressure: High blood pressure can increase your risk for a heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.

The 10-year ASCVD cholesterol risk test can be a valuable tool when it comes to understanding your relative risk for developing heart disease, or experiencing a cardiovascular event, in the near future.

This test isn’t foolproof and it isn’t a guaranteed diagnosis. But the information it gives you and your healthcare professional can be an important jumping off point to protecting your heart for the next 10 years of your life.