Heart disease affects 61.8 million in U.S.

Related tags Hypertension Myocardial infarction Blood American heart association

Nearly 62 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular
disease, and nearly a million die from it each year, statistics
published on Monday show.

Nearly 62 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, and nearly a million die from it each year, statistics published on Monday show.

Heart disease is by far the No. 1 killer in the United States, although a third of those deaths could be prevented if people ate better diets and exercised more, the American Heart Association said in it annual report on heart statistics.

It said 61.8 million Americans had heart disease in 1999, the latest year for which statistics are available.

"Cardiovascular disease deaths in 1999 totaled 958,755; cancer 549,838; accidents 97,860; Alzheimer's disease 44,536 and HIV/AIDS 14,802,"​ the association said in a statement. Heart disease accounted for 40 percent of all deaths in the United States in 1999.

Strokes killed 167,366 people in 1999. When taken separately from other cardiovascular diseases, stroke is the third leading cause of death overall.

Many studies show that a better diet and a little exercise can prevent many deaths, yet Americans ignore the most basic guidelines, the heart association says.

"The American Heart Association advocates a dietary pattern that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish,"​ said Barbara Howard, head of the organization's nutrition committee and president of MedStar Research Institute in Washington.

The report says only 22.7 percent of adults ate the minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day in 1996 -- up from 19 percent in 1990.

"It's good to see that more people are eating fruits and vegetables, but it looks like there is a significant number of people still missing the message,"​ Howard said.

Americans are also failing to control a common cause of heart death -- their blood pressure. Only 39 percent of adults with high blood pressure had their levels controlled to below 140/90 mm Hg, considered the highest desirable blood pressure, the National Center for Quality Assurance says.

Doctors are getting better about prescribing the drugs that patients need, however. In 1999, 85 percent of heart attack survivors got a beta blocker drug when they left the hospital, an increase from 62 percent in 1996.

If just 5 percent more got the drugs, 4,000 lives would be saved every year, the organization estimates.

"The improvements in prescribing beta blockers are encouraging, and well over half of patients are getting their cholesterol screened, but there is no reason these practices shouldn't be at 100 percent,"​ Dr. David Faxon. "These practices are key first steps in preventing a second heart attack."

About a quarter of all Americans smoke cigarettes, which cause an estimated one in five deaths from cardiovascular diseases, the heart association said. Its report said between 37,000 and 40,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease every year because of exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.

All this cost an estimated $298.2 billion in 2001, the group said. "In 2002, costs are estimated to be $329.2 billion,"​ it added. "Of this amount, $199.5 billion is nursing home costs, physician and professional services, drugs and other medical durables, and home health care. Indirect costs (mortality and lost productivity) total $129.7 billion."

But there are promising new treatments for the most desperate patients. The Heart Association highlighted medicated stents -- which are mesh tubes used to keep an artery wide open after a blockage is cleared.

Coating them with drugs prevents the common problem of re-blockage.

Greater use was also made of implantable left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) to help heart failure patients live longer.

And in the most desperate cases, a few experimental implantable hearts worked to keep patients alive a bit longer.

On July 2, 59-year-old Robert Tools was the first person to receive the AbioCor implantable heart, made by Abiomed. He lived for 151 days.

Of six patients who got the artificial hearts, half are still alive.

Tissue engineering using cells taken from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood has also shown some promise in experiments. The idea is to use a patient's own cells to grow new heart tissue.

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