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Heart Disease Still Number-One Killer

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the world, according to a report released by the American Heart Association (AHA).

The AHA estimates that 61,800,000 Americans have cardiovascular disease, which can include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (heart attack and chest pain), stroke, birth defects of the heart and blood vessels, and congestive heart failure.

Cardiovascular disease kills more people than the next seven causes combined–including cancer–the AHA report states.

“The most surprising finding is that heart disease and stroke numbers are not going down,” says Dr. David Faxon, president of the AHA. “For many years, they did, but now we are seeing a leveling off, and in fact, we are seeing an increase in some groups such as African-American women.”

According to Faxon, reasons for the leveling off in numbers include the aging of the population and the “growing problem” of diabetes and obesity, both of which greatly increase heart disease risk.

In 1999, the most recent year for which data is available, cardiovascular disease deaths totaled nearly 1 million–equivalent to 1 death every 33 seconds–and accounted for 40% of all deaths that year.

The new report also states that caring for people with cardiovascular disease costs billions of dollars and will get more expensive. Cardiovascular disease-related costs for 2001 were estimated at $298.2 billion and are expected to rise to $329.2 billion in 2002.

“The majority of the cost is for inpatient hospitalization so anything that prevent the disease and complications and the need for rehospitalization can reduce cost,” Faxon said.

He pointed out that medication and lifestyle changes can have powerful benefits for people with heart disease. “For instance, taking a beta-blocker, an ACE inhibitor or statin after a heart attack dramatically reduces the chance of another heart attack or death,” he said.

According to Faxon, lifestyle changes have the greatest effect on preventing death and disease associated with cardiovascular disease. “While we have made modest effects on smoking and cholesterol awareness, we are losing ground in high blood pressure awareness,” he added.

“Both men and women need to stop smoking, eat right, exercise and know their blood pressure and cholesterol and keep them at target levels,” he advised.

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