Every year, nearly 800,000 people die from cardiovascular disease. That’s 30% of all deaths under the age of 75, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nearly a quarter of those deaths could be prevented, the study authors found.
That’s 200,000 lives that could be saved every year, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. Particularly striking is the fact that 56% of those deaths occurred among people under the age of 65.
“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths that happen when they don’t have to happen,” said Frieden.
“The numbers themselves don’t surprise me,” said Dr. David May, “but the numbers embarrass me.” May is chair of the board of governors for the American College of Cardiology and a practicing cardiologist.
African-Americans were twice as likely as any other group to die from preventable heart disease, according to the study. Men were two times more likely than women to die from heart disease and stroke.
But, Friedan noted, “your longevity may be more likely to be influenced by your zip code, than your genetic code.“ According to the research, the District of Columbia had the highest rates of avoidable deaths - 99 deaths for every 100,000 people. That’s more than double the rate in Minnesota, the state with the lowest number of preventable deaths.
Researchers say the highest rates of death from hypertension and cardiovascular disease were found in the South. And those differences were even more pronounced when looking at the county level; some counties had rates 10 times higher than their neighbors’.
But there was a silver lining in the CDC’s review of mortality data. Between 2001 and 2010, the avoidable death rate from heart disease, stroke and hypertension decreased by 29% overall, with the greatest improvements found in the 65 to 74 age group.
According to the CDC, the discrepancies between age groups may be attributed to the fact that older people have more access to health care because of Medicare.
As the Affordable Care Act comes into effect, Frieden anticipates that more people will be able to access preventative care. “We do expect if people get insured, get care, we will see significant reductions in the numbers.”
Prevention can be as simple as following the “ABCS,” says Frieden: Aspirin, blood pressure control, cholesterol management and smoking cessation.
“It sounds so simple,” says Dr. Ralph Sacco, former president of the American Heart Association. But, he adds, “getting people to get their blood pressure under better control, cholesterol managed and (to) stop smoking” isn’t easy.
Which is why Frieden also pointed to the need of community based initiatives, like the Sodium Reduction in Communities Program, a county level effort to reduce sodium in schools and restaurants. In addition, he believes the use of electronic health records can contribute to better identifying and supporting patients who need help in quitting smoking and blood pressure management.
It’s never too early to start, Sacco said. “Focusing earlier and younger on the right thing,” he said. “ Getting kids to focus on healthier diets and exercising.”
“Bottom line,” says Frieden, “this is the No. 1 cause of death, the No. 1 preventable death, and the No. 1 cause of inequalities. And we can make rapid changes to improve.”