Test To Predict Chronic Diseases?

I understand there is a new blood test that can predict whether you’ll develop heart disease, cancer or diabetes within 3 years. Is this really possible?

– June 21, 2017

You may be referring to a test called ICHRON, which stands for the Intermountain Chronic Disease Risk Score. Reportedly, by collating a patient’s age with information from routine blood tests, the result can predict the likelihood of developing diabetes, kidney failure, coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, atrial fibrillation, stroke, dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease within three years.

This predictive scoring method was developed by researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City who presented their results at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific meeting in March (2017). The investigators claim that ICHRON predictions are 77 to 78 percent accurate. They note that more than half of the adults in the U.S. suffer from one or more chronic diseases and that these cases are projected to increase by 40 percent in the next 10 years.

To develop the predictive scale, the researchers calculated ICHRON scores for more than 144,000 primary care patients. After 3 years they found that 7 percent of the women and 9 percent of the men had been diagnosed with at least one chronic disease. The most common illnesses were diabetes and coronary artery disease.

The researchers reported that women with a high ICHRON score were 11 times more likely to develop a chronic disease than those with a low score, while those with moderate scores were 3 times as likely to be diagnosed with one of the diseases than those with low scores. Men with high scores were 14 times more likely to be diagnosed than those with low scores, while those with moderate scores had a 5-times greater risk than those with low scores.

The idea behind the scoring system is to help doctors identify patients who are most at risk for chronic diseases well in advance so that they can better determine who needs more attention and perhaps more treatment. It could also motivate patients to take better care of themselves in an effort to head off the disease(s) predicted by their scores.

As interesting and potentially helpful as this concept is, it doesn’t appear to be ready for widespread use yet. One physician unrelated to the study commented in news reports that the scoring system would have to be tested in a more diverse population, since Utah’s is primarily white and has lower rates of smoking and obesity than other states.

Bottom line: I wouldn’t depend on a score to predict your future health. Instead, concentrate on healthy eating, exercise, stress reduction, controlling your weight and not smoking to maintain optimum wellness and minimize your risk of chronic disease.

Andrew Weil, M.D.



Heidi May et al, “Predicting 3-Year Risk of Incident Chronic Disease in Disease-Free Primary Care Patients: The Intermountain Chronic Disease Model (ICHRON).” Presentation at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session, March 17, 2017, Washington, D.C.

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