Heart and stroke death rates decline, risks still high

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New CDC data indicate that the American Heart Association has met its 1999 goal with early success in reducing coronary heart disease and death rate by 25% by 2010. Yet, Dan Jones, MD, AHA president, said the victory could be short-lived if the risk factors that lead to heart disease and stroke are not also reduced.

Since 1999, coronary heart disease and stroke age-adjusted death rates are down by 25.8% and 24.4%, respectively, according to new mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However the AHA warned that potential problems loom for the future, as all of the major risk factors for the leading causes of death are still too high and several are actually on the rise.  

“As encouraging as it is, heart disease and stroke remain the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death in the United States. We still have remaining goals that we haven’t yet met – reductions in the risk factors that lead to heart disease and stroke, as well as eliminating the striking disparities in care for women and minority populations,” said Jones.

The reduction in the death rates for coronary heart disease and stroke equates to approximately 160,000 lives saved in 2005 (the most recent year for which data is available) compared to the 1999 baseline data. AHA analysts project that there may be a 36% decline in the age-adjusted coronary heart disease death rate and a 34% decline in the age-adjusted stroke death rate when the 2008 data are released in a few years in comparison with the 1999 data). The population size in 2008 is projected to have grown, so it is projected that the estimated lives saved in 2008 will be approximately 240,000.

The AHA said that ongoing scientific research has led to improvements in medications and in technology.

Coronary heart disease age-adjusted death rates for women have dropped 26.9%since 1999.  However, age-adjusted stroke death rates among women are down by only 23.7%, lower than the overall age-adjusted stroke death rate reduction and the age-adjusted stoke death rate reduction for men, which is 25.8%. The age-adjusted death rate for blacks is down 23.8%for coronary heart disease (compared to 25.6%for whites) and 20.3% for stroke (compared to 25% for whites).

“These disparities are unacceptable,” Jones said. “We are actively seeking ways to better address these issues so that we can ensure that every person has the appropriate care they need to live a healthier, longer life.”

The AHA has established new goals for reducing modifiable risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including hypertension, high blood cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity and tobacco use. The data shows that while there is progress on some of these risk factors, others are not being reduced nearly enough. The number of people with uncontrolled hypertension has fallen by 16 percent since the AHA set its 25% 2010 strategic goals. The number of people with elevated blood cholesterol is down 19.2% and tobacco use is down 15.4%. Perhaps most alarming, the rate of physical inactivity has only declined by 2.5% and the prevalence rates for obesity and type 2 diabetes are actually increasing, and are appearing at earlier ages than ever before.

“If we don’t make a concerted effort to reduce these risks, we will lose the momentum we celebrate today,” Jones concluded.

For more information on heart disease and stroke deaths and risk factors, visit www.americanheart.org. The 2005 mortality report can be accessed at www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr56/nvsr56_10.pdf.