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Why Heart Disease Still Kills More People Than Any Other Condition

August 22, 2017

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and the condition also is responsible for about 33 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to recent research.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), found that nearly 18 million people across the globe died because of cardiovascular disease, one type of heart disease.

Researchers reviewed data over a 25-year period for 133 countries and found the number of global heart disease-related deaths grew by nearly 5 million people over this period. The findings were a bit surprising because heart disease deaths have declined in much of the Western world, including the U.S., Canada and Australia over the last 20 years, but researchers said these numbers have begun to plateau.

The study found that while heart disease deaths are no longer declining in high-income regions, low-income parts of the world have experienced an increase in the number of these deaths. Researchers also discovered that other heart conditions such as coronary artery disease was the leading cause of the loss of health in nearly every region they studied. Stroke was the second leading cause of loss of health, and the rates of both stroke and coronary artery disease began to increase around age 40, indicating that these conditions aren’t necessarily diseases of old age.

Researchers say countries need to focus on developing more low-cost treatments and increasing access to treatment in regions of the world that lack vast health care resources. They also said countries should invest in heart disease surveillance and population-based registries to track their efforts to reduce the prevalence of heart disease.

While doing these things can help countries lower heart disease rates, focusing on prevention is also critical. There are several risk factors for heart disease — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, drinking, being overweight or obese and poor diet — that can be addressed with lifestyle changes.

We say it all the time, but it must be repeated: proper diet and regular exercise can reduce your heart disease risk. Not to mention your risk for other chronic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure.

We always urge patients to adopt healthy habits as early in life as possible, because it’s easier to stick to a routine if you’ve developed it early on. However, it’s never too late to make changes that can positively impact your health. Currently, 1 in 3 Americans lives with some form of heart disease, a condition that is not only the leading cause of death in the country but also one of the leading causes of disability (along with stroke). Health officials say the prevalence of these diseases could be reduced if we just focused on the controllable risk factors I mentioned above.

If you have one of these risk factors, schedule an appointment with your doctor (if you haven’t already done so) to learn more about the best ways to manage your condition. He or she likely will suggest lifestyle changes, but in some cases medications also may help, especially if you have genetic risk factors. Nutritional counseling also may be effective, because you can work with a dietitian and get guidance about the best ways to make lasting changes to your diet. Even if you start small, it can make a difference.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the country, which means it is within your power to reduce your risk. While the research community can launch more targeted prevention and treatment efforts, we all individually can do our part to stay healthy. Making lifestyle changes isn’t easy by any means, but as the data shows, it may the one thing that keeps these statistics from growing.

Heart Disease Prevention Guide

We know that managing your heart health can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve created a guide for patients to serve as a resource.

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