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Risk factors for cardiovascular disease in homeless adults

by Tony C. Lee, John G. Hanlon, Jessica Ben-David, Gillian L. Booth, Warren J. Cantor, Philip W. Connelly, Stephen W. Hwang
Circulation ()


BACKGROUND: Homeless people represent an extremely disadvantaged group in North America. Among older homeless men, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death. The objective of this study was to examine cardiovascular risk factors in a representative sample of homeless adults and identify opportunities for improved risk factor modification. METHODS AND RESULTS: Homeless persons were randomly selected at shelters for single adults in Toronto. Response rate was 79%. Participants (n=202) underwent interviews, physical measurements, and blood sampling. The mean age of participants was 42 years, and 89% were men. The prevalence of smoking among homeless subjects (78%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 72% to 84%) was significantly higher than in the general population (standardized morbidity ratio [SMR], 254; 95% CI, 216 to 297). Hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes were not more prevalent than in the general population but were often poorly controlled. Homeless men were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than men in the general population (SMR, 79; 95% CI, 63 to 98). Cocaine use in the last year was reported by 29% of subjects (95% CI, 23% to 36%). CVD was reported by 15% of subjects, fewer than one third of whom reported taking aspirin or cholesterol-lowering medication. According to multiple-risk-factor equations, the median estimated 10-year absolute risk of myocardial infarction or coronary death among homeless men aged 30 to 74 years was 5% (interquartile range, 3% to 9%). CONCLUSIONS: Cardiovascular risk factor modification is suboptimal among homeless adults in Toronto, despite universal health insurance. Multiple risk factor equations may underestimate true risk in this population because of inadequate accounting for factors such as cocaine use and heavy smoking.

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