For many years, the number of people dying from heart disease has decreased. But now that trend is starting to slow down. In 2016, more than 415,000 people died from a heart problem that could have been prevented.
This unexpected number comes from a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The organization is trying to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2022, but the data shows we have work to do.
A surprising number of people who died from problems that could have been prevented were middle aged—ages 35 to 64. About 775,000 people in this age group were hospitalized and 75,000 people died because of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and related problems.
How could so many deaths have been prevented? According to the CDC, these are the most important reasons many heart attacks and strokes occurred and the number of people that could be affected:
- 9 million people don’t take aspirin as recommended by a doctor.
- 40 million people don’t have their blood pressure under control.
- 39 million people aren’t controlling their cholesterol.
- 54 million people are smokers. (Try these ideas for quitting.)
- 71 million people aren’t exercising.
The CDC found that some groups of people have a bigger risk than others. For example, Americans ages 35 to 64 are less likely to use aspirin or cholesterol-lowering medicines, called statins, when needed, and only about half have their blood pressure under control. This is also the age group where heart attack rates have not continued to go down in recent years.
African Americans are more likely than whites to have high blood pressure—and they are less likely to have it under control. High blood pressure hits middle-aged African Americans particularly hard.
About 80% of deaths from heart problems could be prevented by making small changes. The CDC advises people to adopt the “ABC’S” for reducing heart attacks and strokes:
Take Aspirin (but only if your doctor recommends it)
Control Blood Pressure
In addition, it can help to eat a heart-friendly diet. Focus on plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and eat less sugar, salt, and animal fat. Get some exercise—a little bit is better than nothing.
Manage your stress with activities like yoga, deep breathing, or just spending time in nature. And lose weight, if you are overweight. Even a few pounds can make a big difference.
You have a greater risk for a heart attack or stroke if you had one in the past or if you’ve had bypass surgery, a stent, or a balloon-type procedure to open up a blood vessel. If you survived one of these, ask about cardiac rehabilitation. Local hospitals offer this type of education and supervised exercise program to help you safely start a fitness routine after a serious heart problem.
If you’ve had any of the above, or any other risk factor, such as a strong family history of early heart disease, high blood pressure, or a history of smoking, talk to your doctor about blood and urine tests that can test the health of your heart and blood vessels early—before you have a serious problem. These tests can help you know if there is damage that could harm your health in the future. For more information, go to Knowyourrisk.com.