Heart attacks, strokes leading cause of death in US
Heart disease has long been known to be the leading cause of death in the United States. Now, a new study shows that heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular disease kill in 1 in 3 Americans.
In 2013, more than 800,000 Americans died as a result of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. The deaths were caused by strokes and a host of other heart-related illnesses including heart attacks, heart failure, and valve and artery diseases.
On its own, coronary heart disease killed 370,000 Americans in 2013, the researchers found. During that same year, nearly 800,000 Americans had a stroke and of those 129,000 people died. Nearly the same number – 750,000 suffered a heart attack that year with 116,000 individuals dying as a result.
Heart disease is a huge problem, said Dr. Jerome Williams, a cardiologist with the Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte. Each year, the American Heart Association tracks the national data on cardiovascular disease in the United States and issues its report.
“Cardiovascular disease is a huge killer in this country,” Williams said. “It takes an enormous toll on lives and productivity and the problem centers on our American lifestyle and behavior.”
Williams said he believes that one way to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease is to focus on promoting how to sustain good health. “We’re all born healthy and over time we become unhealthy,” he said.
“We should put in place programs that prevent us from developing heart disease by promoting continued good health in continuing to eat healthfully, continuing to exercise and avoiding environmental factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease,” he added.
Racial differences also play a role in who is more vulnerable to these diseases. According to the report, the risk of a first stroke in black Americans is nearly twice that of white adults. Among black American adults, 48 percent of women and 46 percent of men have some form of cardiovascular disease.
The increased incidence of heart disease in minorities is a multifaceted problem, according to Williams. It’s not just attributed to certain cultural dietary habits, but to a number of factors, including lack of access to health care, difficulty navigating the health care system, and presenting for treatment in the later stages of cardiovascular illness.
“We need to systemize how we deal with risk factors and implement best practices across the board and not just in affluent communities,” Williams said. “Minorities need to have access to grocery stores where they can buy healthy foods and have transportation available to them that can take them to these stores. It’s not just about access to health care.”
Eating healthy also is more expensive than eating poorly, Williams said. The doctor said it makes sense to implement policy changes to help minorities and the poor on the front end in order not to pay more on the back end in terms of chronic disease, disability and mortality.
Researchers also looked at risk factors for heart disease and found that while smoking has decreased 30 percent since 1998, about 19 percent of men and 15 percent of women still smoked in 2014. Despite heightened awareness about the benefits of exercise, about one-third of adults don’t do any physical activity outside of work.
Williams said an emphasis on the importance of physical activity in youth, who should exercise for the recommended 30 minutes daily five times a week, is imperative to foster a habit that lasts a lifetime.
For adults, the doctor recommends making your health a priority. “Schedule exercise and be selfish. Block that time off and set it aside for exercise instead of making dinner or picking up the kids,” Williams said. Once it becomes a habit, keeping that exercise schedule will be easier.
Even though a small proportion of Americans eat a better diet today than they did a decade before, 160 million Americans were either overweight or obese in 2009-2012 represents 69 percent of adults and 32 percent of children.
During that same period, about half of all adults had high cholesterol. The report found 80 million Americans had high blood pressure, an especially acute problem among blacks at 46 percent of women and 45 percent of men who have hypertension.
Novant Health has the following tips for a healthy heart:
Get to know your cholesterol numbers. Ask your provider for a cholesterol test. This simple blood test will give you a number of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood stream. The higher the number, the more likely cholesterol will build up in your blood vessels. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your cholesterol. Your provider may also suggest changes in diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors to help lower your numbers.
Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when your blood passes through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal. Your blood pressure is too high if it measures 140 over 90 or higher most of the time. Normal blood pressure measures 120 over 80 or below.
Work with your doctor to achieve a healthy blood pressure. To lower blood pressure, eat a healthy diet. Your doctor may recommend the DASH diet, an eating plan that helps reduce blood pressure. Exercise daily to lower blood pressure. Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks daily while women should limit themselves to one.
Manage your weight. Set a long-term goal without setting goals too high. Make a plan to take small steps to achieve your goal. Track your progress through a journal or fitness app. Eat less fat and sugar, and consume more fiber.
“Vascular disease develops over time,” Williams said. “The ravages on blood vessels occur over years so unless you go to provider regularly you may not even be aware that you are developing cardiovascular disease.”
Find additional information about heart health at NovantHealth.org/RemarkableYou.
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