More Dying of Cardiac Disease: Aging of America Called One Factor

By Price, Joyce | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

More Dying of Cardiac Disease: Aging of America Called One Factor


Price, Joyce, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Deaths from heart disease, after years of decline, increased between 1992 and 1993, according to a report released yesterday by the American Heart Association.

While quite successful in treating once-fatal heart attacks, doctors now are seeing a sharp rise in deaths from congestive heart failure among patients who survived heart attacks.

"We've made great strides in decreasing premature, early heart attacks . . . and are really good at keeping people alive after they have heart attacks," said Dr. Roger Blumenthal, clinical director of the Ciccarone Center for Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"But afterward, these patients are often left with impaired heart function, so they are more apt to develop congestive heart failure or arrhythmias [erratic heartbeat]" or some other cardiac disorder and die of that at a later age, he said in a telephone interview.

The aging of the American population is the other major factor in the increase in deaths from heart disease, the AHA says.

Between 1979 and 1992, there was an 82.5 percent jump in deaths from congestive heart failure. CHF is the primary cause of hospitalization for people age 65 and over, and CHF rates are higher in those who survive heart attacks.

Cardiovascular diseases include coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, rheumatic heart disease and CHF. Except for CHF, death rates for all have been dropping steadily since the 1960s. The death rate for heart disease, which climbed in the '40s and '50s, began falling in 1965, as a result of the advent of open-heart surgery.

Cardiovascular diseases claimed 954,138 American lives in 1993, an increase of nearly 32,000 heart- and blood-vessel-related deaths from 1992. Strokes, which killed 143,769 Americans in 1992, killed about 149,740 the following year, according to the AHA report.

Dr. Sidney C. Smith Jr., AHA president and chief of cardiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, predicts both heart disease and stroke death rates may rise sharply in the next few decades, largely because of the aging of the baby boomers.

Dr. Blumenthal agrees the outlook is not encouraging. "The progress we've made in the last couple of decades is not going to continue," he said.

The setback is documented in the AHA report "Heart and Stroke Facts: 1996 Statistical Supplement," which examines "age-adjusted death rates for major cardiovascular diseases."

The first page deals with what it calls "two myths about heart disease." The first myth is that "heart disease no longer represents a serious threat." Equally fallacious is the belief that "if a heart attack doesn't kill you, you'll recover and be fine. …

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