WEDNESDAY, Dec. 15, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- The death rate from cardiovascular disease in the United States has declined 28 percent since the late 1990s, but heart disease and stroke still account for one-third of all deaths, a new study finds.
And the cost of preventing and treating heart disease is higher than for cancer or any other diagnostic group, an estimated $286 billion in 2007, according to the annual update from the American Heart Association.
"We haven't won the war," said Dr. Veronique L. Roger, lead author of the report, published online Dec. 15 in Circulation.
"While there are more people living with cardiovascular disease, there are also more costs in terms of dollars and in terms of the cost to individuals who are living with heart disease instead of disease-free lives," said Roger, chair of health sciences research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Comparing data from 1997 to 2007, the researchers found the number of inpatient cardiovascular operations and procedures grew by almost 30 percent.
These procedures helped to extend the average age of death from cardiovascular disease to 75 years, but that is still well before the average life expectancy of 77.9 years in the United States.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans continue to make poor health decisions that sabotage efforts to further reduce cardiovascular disease. For instance, in terms of risk factors for heart and stroke, the report found that:
- 23 percent of men, 18 percent of women, and almost 20 percent of high school students smoke.
- About one-third of U.S. adults (aged 20 and older) have high blood pressure, but fewer than half of those who are aware of it have it under control.
- Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Nearly one-third of children between 2 and 19 years old are overweight or obese.
- About 15 percent of adults have total serum cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher.
- 8 percent of adults are known to have diabetes; 36.8 percent have prediabetes.
Even so, the overall findings are positive, experts say.
"There are hundreds of thousands of individuals who might have died or been substantially disabled from cardiovascular disease in the past who are instead able to lead full, productive, satisfying lives," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at the University of California Los Angeles, who is familiar with the report findings.
Experts believe that advances in medicine may have outweighed the damage from the obesity epidemic during the decade studied.
Stents that prop open clogged blood vessels and medications for people with heart disease have made a major impact on survival rates, said Dr. Kirk Garratt, clinical director of interventional cardiovascular research at Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute in New York City.
"You cannot deny that these stents improve the quality of life for millions of Americans living with heart disease," he said.
But healthy lifestyle choices are crucial for longevity, and the way to become a healthier society is to do it "one individual at a time," Roger said. Controlling weight through diet and exercise will be key to achieving the Heart Association's 2020 goals of improving cardiovascular health by 20 percent and reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20 percent.
Genetics play a significant role in the development of cardiovascular disease, the authors acknowledge. An early heart attack in a parent doubles the risk of heart attack in men and boosts it by 70 percent in women. And your risk of heart disease will double if your brother or sister has a history of heart disease.
But genes aren't destiny. If you're at higher risk, take care of yourself, these experts advise.
"You can't really control your genes," Roger said, "but you can control how you play the deck of cards you've been dealt."
Learn more about heart disease from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.