JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A growing concern for heart health has doctors looking for a new approach when it comes to identifying at-risk patients.

Rick Ward remembers just a few years ago noticing something changing with his heart.

“Well it slowly gets bothering you a little bit,” Ward said.

Finally his symptoms reached a point where it was interfering with his life.

“A racing heart where you think like you’re out of breath or you just need to stop and lay down and relax,” Ward said.

Only in his 50s, Ward was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. He came from a family of heart issues, but did not expect that he would deal with the condition at his age.

However, looking back, doctors could see the signs. Risk factors such as hypertension placed Ward at a higher chance of a heart issue. The cardiology community is looking at a new tool it hopes patients will use to assess their risk.

The HeartAge predictor, listed on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, calculates a percentage over 10 years how likely one is to develop a condition based on just a few questions. Dr. John Catanzaro with UF Health said it is a tool worth considering.

“It stands as a springboard for a subspecialist in cardiology to actually use them in concert when treating an arrhythmia that’s more specialized,” Dr. Catanzaro said.

He added that Northeast Florida is seeing an interesting trend when it comes to heart health, and results of the calculation may motivate people to change their lifestyles.

“The cardiovascular mortality is actually going down, which is a good sign, but the incidence of coronary artery disease is rising,” Dr. Catanzaro said.

Still, the CDC lists more than 600,000 deaths in the United States due to heart disease. Dr. Catanzaro said some things are out of a patient’s control; “Some patients may already carry a genetic predisposition to heart disease prior to coming into the office.”

As for Ward, his condition is under control now, but it is something he constantly monitors.

“Well you always have a possibility of a stroke, so you do take a little bit of medicine and you take blood thinners which is something you never get off of,” Ward said.

Calculate your heart's age and risk for disease here.