Eliminating cardiovascular disease would increase U.S. life expectancy by seven years

December 29, 1999

DALLAS, Dec. 30 -- If all major forms of heart and blood vessel disease were eliminated, U.S. life expectancy would rise by almost seven years and the nation would be more than $300 billion richer, according to the American Heart Association's 2000 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update, an annual report released today. The report updates statistics on death and prevalence rates for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

"We've seen remarkable progress in fighting heart disease and stroke during the last half century, but cardiovascular disease is still the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women," says American Heart Association President Lynn Smaha, M.D., Ph.D.

Nearly 60 million Americans have some form of heart or blood vessel disease, which claimed 953,110 lives in 1997, the most recent year for which data are available, the report says. Cardiovascular disease accounted for about 41 percent of all deaths, or one out of every 2.4 deaths, and was listed as the primary or a contributing cause of death on more than 1.4 million death certificates that year.

"One of the enduring half-truths about cardiovascular disease is that it is a man's disease," Smaha says. "The fact is that it is just as devastating to women. Cardiovascular disease kills more than half a million women each year. That's more than the next 14 causes of death combined."

Although coronary heart disease strikes men on average a decade sooner than women, the risk begins to rise as women approach menopause and continues to increase steadily with age. Although women have first heart attacks at later ages, they are more likely to die from them. Within one year of having a heart attack, 25 percent of men and 38 percent of women will die.

"Many women also don't realize that stroke is as serious a problem for them as it is for men. Not only is stroke the third leading killer in the United States, it is also a leading cause of major disability," says Dr. Smaha. Stroke claimed the lives of 97, 227 women. By comparison, 41,943 women died of breast cancer.

Risk factors of particular concern for women include elevated blood cholesterol, which affects a higher percentage of women over age 49 than men, physical inactivity and smoking. Obesity is also a significant risk factor for both women and men, as is diabetes. In fact, if a woman develops diabetes before menopause, it greatly reduces her lower-risk advantage compared to a man.

"If women underestimate their risk of heart disease and stroke, they may not take the steps necessary to reduce their risk of these deadly -- and often preventable -- diseases," Smaha says.

This year's report points to disturbing trends regarding several preventable and/or treatable risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.

Although smoking has dropped by about 42 percent among adults since 1965, that decline has leveled off. Smoking is on the increase among U.S. teenagers, and it is expected to increase significantly worldwide in the coming century.

Despite extensive information concerning the benefits of regular physical activity for preventing heart disease and stroke, only 22 percent of all U.S. adults report regular, sustained physical activity of any intensity lasting 30 minutes or more five times a week.

The statistics also point out that more than 110 million Americans -- including children as young as 6 years old -- are classified as either obese or overweight. The American Heart Association recently identified obesity and being overweight as a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

High blood pressure is also a problem -- affecting an estimated 50 million Americans -- the report says. That's 1 in 5 Americans overall and 1 in 4 adults. Of those with high blood pressure, only about 27 percent have received medical treatment and have the condition under control.

The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world. African Americans have almost double the rate of fatal stroke than Caucasians and a 4.2 times greater rate of end-stage kidney disease, which develops when high blood pressure damages the vessels that bring blood to the kidneys. End-stage kidney disease impairs the body's ability to cleanse toxins from the blood and can be fatal.
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American Heart Association

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