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What is the Framingham Heart Study?

By B. Schreiber
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

The Framingham heart study is a long-term cardiovascular study that began in 1948. The goal of the study has been to follow a specific population over time to determine how certain risk factors contribute to heart disease. The original study population included more than 5,000 subjects from Framingham, Massachusetts, who were followed for 30 years. The Framingham heart study is credited with identifying risk factors that cause heart disease. The study found that uncontrollable factors include age and genetics, while controllable factors include obesity, cholesterol levels, and whether participants smoked, among others.

The participants of the Framingham heart study were randomly selected from the town and ranged in age from 30 to 62 years old. Along with initial interviews concerning family and medical histories, their health was assessed every year. This assessment included a physical examination as well as numerous laboratory tests as the subjects were screened for a number of heart-related health conditions. The study is generally acknowledged as the source of the term risk factor, and found that family history and lifestyle choices were important indicators of the odds of developing heart disease.

The findings of the Framingham study helped to establish firm evidence for many of the causes of heart disease. Depending on whether the subjects of the study could influence these factors, they were called controllable or uncontrollable. Uncontrollable factors were found to be high blood pressure, family history, along with age and gender. The many more controllable factors include obesity, activity level and exercise, and cholesterol levels.

Drawing on years of evidence, the Framingham risk score has been developed to assess the chance of heart disease in a clinical setting. The score is used to predict the odds of a heart-related incident in a 10-year period. This includes cardiovascular events such as heart attack, angina pectoris due to insufficient blood flow, and death. Also called the Farmingham point score, this information can be used to plan treatment and therapeutic options.

Before the Framingham heart study, much of the information about heart disease was collected through death records. The research was important in pioneering the study of living subjects over time, as well in selecting and tracking participants. While the relative similarity of Framingham residents was one reason the town was chosen at first, the original study was criticized for following a mostly white population. Expansions of the Framingham heart study have increased the representation of other ethnicities, even while including descendants of the original research subjects.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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