September 4, 2013
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Report: Thousands of Deaths From Heart Attacks and Strokes Are Preventable
At least 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year are preventable, a new report says. More than half of these deaths occur in people under age 65. The overall rate of preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke went down by 29% between 2001 and 2010. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the report September 3. It was based on information collected in 2010. The report also found that blacks are nearly twice as likely as whites to die early from heart disease and stroke. Men have the highest risk of death. The number of avoidable deaths varies by region. Southern states have the highest preventable death rates. To save lives, people need to stop smoking, get more activity and eat less salt. Managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes is also key. Communities can help by providing safe places to exercise and smoke-free areas. HealthDay News wrote about the report September 3.
By Howard LeWine, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What is the Doctor’s Reaction?
Each year, more than one in four Americans die before the age of 75 from heart disease or a stroke that could have been prevented. That’s the conclusion of a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is some good news in this report based on information collected in 2010. The rate of preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke declined by 29% from 2001 to 2010. Interestingly, more progress in preventing death occurred in people 65 years and older. Perhaps because Medicare coverage kicks in at that age.
Looking at previous studies of preventable deaths, we can see why 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke can be avoided.
- Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The health hazards of tobacco are enormous. In addition to heart disease and stroke, they include cancer and chronic lung disease. Together, these diseases account for 443,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. annually.
- A lack of exercise and obesity are responsible for about 360,000 preventable deaths in the United States each year.
- About 125,000 preventable deaths in the United States every year are attributed to people not taking medicines as directed.
While these numbers include preventable deaths from all causes, heart disease and stroke top the list.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
No matter what your age and how good things look today, your future risk of heart disease, stroke and other related diseases is high. It's true for all of us.
That's why it's so important to do all you can to lower your risk:
- Never smoke, or at least quit smoking right away. It's never too late to quit. Your risk of a heart attack starts to decrease within weeks of quitting.
- Avoid type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding simple sugars and staying physically active. If you already have pre-diabetes, you need to take action right away.
- Take steps to help keep your blood pressure in the normal range. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and limit salt intake. If lifestyle changes are not enough to get your blood pressure down, you have lots of drug options that work.
- Reduce saturated fats in your diet to help lower your LDL cholesterol level. Instead, use more olive oil and other unsaturated oils. Some people may also need a statin drug to lower LDL. This depends on how high your LDL is and your other heart-disease risk factors.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Over the next 10 years, we have the knowledge and means to greatly increase the number of preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke. And from many other diseases as well.
But until recently, the steady rise in obesity did not appear to be slowing. And many experts predicted we might actually see life expectancy decline.
We can reverse that trend by becoming more physically active and making other healthy lifestyle changes.