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Feb 19, 2019

Latest Statistics Say Nearly Half of Americans Have Some Form of Heart Disease

An annual report from the American Heart Association explains the rise in heart disease rates and emphasizes prevention.

At least 48 percent of U.S. adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, based on the latest statistics provided by the American Heart Association. Findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Circulation and highlight the need for screening, prevention and treatment to improve public health.

The report, Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2019 Update, provided the latest statistics on heart disease—the leading cause of death in the United States. The update is published each year by the American Heart Association and provides useful information about how we’re doing in the fight against heart disease.

This year, the biggest takeaway was the increase in the number of Americans currently living with some form of heart disease, as well as the rise in heart-related deaths after decades of declines.

Based on the latest data from 2016, the report states that 121.5 million U.S. adults are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, up from 92.1 million reported in the last annual report. That includes adults with coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure, which together affect an estimated 48 percent of American adults.

Authors also note that heart-related deaths increased from 836,546 in 2015 to 840,678 in 2016 in the United States, although heart-related deaths decreased worldwide.

According to authors, the rise in heart disease rates is largely driven by stricter cutoffs for high blood pressure. In 2017, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure from 140/90 mmHg or above to a blood pressure over 130/80 mmHg. As a result, millions more Americans meet the definition of having high blood pressure—a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

If we were to exclude high blood pressure from current statistics, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke would affect 9 percent of U.S. adults based on 2016 data. However, “as one of the most common and dangerous risk factors for heart disease and stroke, this overwhelming presence of high blood pressure can’t be dismissed from the equation in our fight against cardiovascular disease,” said Ivor J. Benjamin, MD, volunteer president of the American Heart Association and director of the Cardiovascular Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Research shows that as much as 80% of all heart disease can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and managing existing risk factors. That means controlling conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and staying active.

Addressing high blood pressure is particularly important, given its high rates and strong link to heart events. According to Benjamin, “Research has shown that eliminating high blood pressure could have a larger impact on CVD deaths than the elimination of all other risk factors among women and all except smoking among men.”

Among other highlights of the report, smoking rates have fallen over the past few decades, and we’ve made some progress in increasing physical activity among children and adults.  However, we still have a way to go in improving America’s heart health.

Obesity currently affects 40% of U.S. adults and nearly one in five children, likely due to a poor diet and lack of exercise. Studies also show an increase in electronic cigarette use, especially in children and teens, which is concerning.

In a commentary posted on the Association’s Centers for Health Metrics and Evaluation website, the Chief Science and Medical Officer of the American Heart Association, Mariell Jessup, MD, explained why statistics like these are so important. According to Jessup, they’re an important tool in the American Heart Association’s mission, which is to build healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. 

“We pour so much effort into our update each year because we believe in the transformative power of continuously and systematically collecting, analyzing and interpreting these important data,” Jessup wrote. “They hold us accountable and help us chart our progress and determine if and how we need to adjust our efforts.”


Questions for You to Consider

  • What is hypertension?
  • Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, occurs when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high. High blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer,” because it often causes no symptoms and if left uncontrolled, increases risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
  • Risk for hypertension increases with age, and most adults will eventually be affected by this condition at some time in their lives. However, diabetes, obesity, stress, high sodium intake, tobacco use and excessive alcohol use can greatly increase risk for high blood pressure.

Infographic: High Blood Pressure

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